Cherith Semple is a Macmillan Head and Neck Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), based at the Ulster Hospital.
I work with newly diagnosed head and neck cancer patients and their families. As their key worker, I provide support and advice, and coordinate their care.
This is an important role, which includes providing psychological support and ensuring patients have as good a grasp as possible of what treatment will mean for them, as well as helping them deal with the consequences of their cancer and any side effects of treatment. This is vital as head and neck cancer is visible and often impacts on many basic day-to-day functions, such as speaking and eating.
I’ve been a Macmillan CNS since 2000. Early in my career, I realised that patients felt very vulnerable, once they were discharged from hospital. One minute they were surrounded by their specialist clinical team, the next they were going home. In fact, when patients were asked about their aftercare, one patient said, “It felt like my cord was cut from the specialist multidisciplinary team. “
That’s where our telephone support aftercare service comes in. Patients know that, if they have concerns, they can call me. Sometimes they just need reassurance. Or they may need an appointment to come in straight away. Either way, they don’t need to wait on their next review appointment. They can just pick up the phone, with rapid access to an appointment, should they need it.
As part of the Macmillan-funded Transforming Cancer Follow Up programme, I now run a surgical follow up clinic for low-risk patients. We’ve also produced a leaflet on the signs and symptoms of recurrence to give patients the confidence to self-manage their condition and know what to look out for.
We have recruited two volunteers who come and help with the weekly follow-up clinic – one of whom was my former patient. Meeting someone who has come through similar treatment and recovery inspires a lot of people. The volunteers help patients complete an electronic holistic needs assessment (eHNA) to help identify their current needs and concerns. That means talking through a list of possible concerns and identifying the support they require.
The biggest reward for being a Macmillan CNS is making a positive difference and helping improve the quality of life of my patients. I’ve been able to work on patient-focused research, which has made the cancer care we provide more person-centred.
Last year, I was the winner of the NI RCN Nurse of the Year award. It was an honour and a privilege because there are lots of nurses doing excellent work and providing exceptional care. Finally, no one works in isolation, so it’s been lovely sharing this award with colleagues who’ve got similar core values as myself – putting patients at the heart of their practice.