Up on the ‘forest’ level of the RCH you’ll find Kookaburra; our cancer care ward. Kookaburra is part of the RCH’s Children’s Cancer Centre – the largest partner in the Victorian Paediatric Integrated Cancer Services, and the only provider of complex children’s cancer care and stem cell transplantation in Victoria.
Nurses Alice and Lauren told us what it’s like to care for children and young people who are being treated for cancer.
Can you tell me about the type of patients you care for on Kookaburra?
Lauren: On Kookaburra we primarily care for children with cancer at diagnosis and throughout their treatment journey. Our patients come to the ward for chemotherapy and to manage the complex side effects of their treatment. An important part of Kookaburra ward is the Bone Marrow Transplant suite. Here we give bone marrow transplants to children with serious conditions of an oncology, haematology or immunology background. These children stay with us on Kookaburra, in isolation, for a minimum of four to six weeks; it’s an immensely challenging time for the patient and their family and we do our very best to support them during their treatment.
What makes Kookaburra unique from other wards?
Lauren: Kookaburra is busy! It’s a rare sight to see a Kookaburra nurse sitting down! You also might see a ‘smurf’ or two roaming around the ward, as we dress in big blue gowns to give chemotherapy.
Alice: Kookaburra is unique for the use of complex chemotherapy protocols, clinical trials and The Stem Cell Transplant unit.
What attracted you to working at the RCH?
Lauren: I grew up watching the Good Friday Appeal every Easter on TV and have always admired the work of the hospital. I love children and when I decided to be a nurse I knew I wanted to pursue paediatrics. I was ecstatic when I was accepted into the RCH Graduate Nurse Program. I wanted to work in a field that challenged me, and Kookaburra certainly does that!
Alice: I wanted to work at the RCH because I wanted to work in paediatrics and felt I would gain the best experience working at the RCH.
Why did you get into nursing?
Lauren: My Nanna inspired me to be a nurse. She always wanted to be a nurse but that dream was put on hold when the Second World War broke out and she instead went to work making silk parachutes for the soldiers. She was a wonderfully compassionate woman, always helping those in need in her community.
Alice: I applied to do nursing because I had two friends who had already started their university degrees in nursing. I was really interested in their stories from placements and they inspired me to start my nursing career.
What’s the most rewarding thing about your role?
Lauren: The relationships formed with the families on Kookaburra. A cancer diagnosis can be absolutely devastating. The treatment journey can be paved with fear, challenges, setbacks, exhaustion, guilt and stress. Behind every superstar patient with cancer is a superstar family. As oncology nurses we are in a privileged position to share in their highs and lows, to laugh and chat during the good times, and cry during the not-so-good times. When a parent genuinely thanks you for doing something, whether it be big or small for their child, it’s the best feeling in the world. To know you truly made a difference is magic.
Alice: Seeing patients finish their cancer treatment and transition back into what life was like before their cancer journey started is extremely rewarding. I also love working as part of the Kookaburra team, I get to work alongside some amazing people who inspire me every shift.
Is there a particular patient you’ve cared for who stands out for you?
Lauren: Every patient is a champion. One particular little girl who we will always remember, wise beyond her years, taught us about togetherness and to “make everybody feel like somebody”.
Alice: I am always blown away by the patients and their families who adapt to living with cancer so well. The kids quickly learn how to take medications and have procedures without a fuss. I also watch parents coordinate providing care for the child in hospital and managing their other children at home. I see siblings say goodbye to their mother for another week and leave with whoever is looking after them at home, accepting that mum needs to stay to take care of the child with cancer. Cancer doesn’t only affect the child diagnosed, it puts an emotional and physical strain on the whole family.
How do you relax after a long shift?
Lauren: I relax with a cup of tea and Netflix, and let’s be honest- chocolate. Or a long chat with a fellow Kookaburra.
Alice: Exercise is how I relax and wind down after a long shift.
If you weren’t a nurse, what would you be doing instead?!
Lauren: That’s a tough question! My eight year-old-self would definitely say I’d be a marine biologist because I’ve always loved whales. I briefly studied law before I switched to nursing, but that definitely wasn’t for me. Maybe a barista… because as nurses we all know coffee is life.
Alice: A lifeguard or a florist.