When Edith Velez had a Valentine's Day appointment at the new Cancer Center at Clara Maass Medical Center, she arrived in a chic red and black ensemble, complete with matching hat and heart decals on her fingernails.
Not even cancer could put a damper on this fashionista's spirits. Around campus, the 54-year-old Newark, NJ, grandmother is fondly known by nurses and other staff as "O Positive." And not just for her blood type.
"She embodies the spirit of positive thinking," said Raylene Langish, BSN, RN, OCN, oncology nurse educator at the Cancer Center, a state-of-the-art facility in Belleville, NJ, that opened in January and offers patients comprehensive, multidisciplinary care that is close to home.
Velez, who is undergoing chemotherapy for a second time for a reoccurrence of an abdominal sarcoma, was on-site for a Neupogen injection to boost her white blood cell count. She was eager to sit in on a chat with ADVANCE about the newly opened facility, along with Langish and Carolyn Giordano, RN, a nurse at the cancer center.
"What we really want patients in New Jersey to know is they do not have to travel great distances to have their needs met," Langish said.
"If there is a need, we will provide it," assured Giordano.
'Dream Come True'
Langish and Giordano were among the 100-plus crowd of medical staff, elected officials, Barnabas Health corporate executives and cancer survivors gathered at the formal grand opening of the Cancer Center on Jan. 10. Mary Ellen Clyne, PhD, president and chief executive of Clara Maass Medical Center, and James M. Orsini, MD, medical director of the Cancer Center, had the honor of cutting the ceremonial ribbon.
CARING TOUCH: Raylene Langish, BSN, RN, OCN, cares for patient Edith Velez at the new Cancer Center at Clara Maass Medical Center. "She embodies the spirit of positive thinking," Langish says of Velez. On the opposite page, Velez walks with Carolyn Giordano, RN, whose family has been affected by cancer. Photos by Kyle Kielinski
"Patients can now come to this calming environment and get help for all aspects of their treatments - whether it's seeing their doctor, setting up appointments for chemotherapy, attending a support group, talking to a therapist or buying a wig," Clyne told those gathered. "Our patient navigators will help them manage their healthcare, connecting them with expert medical resources and making sure they understand their treatment, each step of the way."
In his remarks, Orsini called the opening of the Cancer Center a "dream come true." He said, "We not only provide the latest in innovative care and research to our patients, but now the patient and their families will have the ability, through our cancer navigators, to address treatment, research, genetics and lifestyle; and help them choose the right doctor on their path to cure."
Between space allocation and construction, the opening day was at least a year in the making.
Located on the ground floor of the Continuing Care Building, the Cancer Center has two consultation rooms, four patient examination rooms and a conference room. The conference room is for physician and staff educational presentations as well as support group meetings. It also serves as a resource room for patients who need to research online medical information. The room is equipped with a patient library, and a computer to access patient education and resource websites. In addition, the cancer center boasts a spacious reception area with a fireplace and flat-screen television, and a boutique with products especially for cancer patients.
The atmosphere is serene, even spa-like, with elegant interior designed to offer patients as much comfort as privacy while they meet with their healthcare providers and receive care, Langish and Giordano agree.
Noting services provided the the Cancer Center are coordinated with treatments that might also continue to be provided at the hospital, Giordano likened Clara Maass to "one-stop" healthcare for cancer patients.
In addition to physicians and nurses, the team is comprised of a nutritionist, genetic counselor, clinical psychologist and a host of other ancillary care providers.
"The Cancer Center opens the lines of communication," Langish said. At times, that might include any one of the 18 nurses assigned to the hospital oncology unit, the hospital's outpatient infusion unit, radiation oncology, and other services throughout the medical center and the surrounding community.
"We really work as a family and most patients who come in, we bring them right into the family," Giordano said. And what that means and how it will work for every patient is part of their every challenge.
Between them, Langish and Giordano have 40 years of nursing experience.
"Oncology nursing isn't just a job, it is part of our life. We have the ability to follow our patients through their journey," Langish said. "They really are our extended family."
While the nurses acquaint new physicians with the facility, it's also their job to be with patients during appointments.
"From there on, we are their support system and their trusted resource for whatever is needed," Langish said
Giordano said she enjoys taking a hands-on approach.
"I am so old-school. I love the patient contact. If I didn't have patient contact, I wouldn't feel like I was a nurse," she said.
"It's great to be able to know each day you have an opportunity to make a difference in someone's life," Langish said. "It gives me an enormous sense of pride."
Langish said she really didn't know the impact that nursing would have on her, personally. When she started out in nursing, she was assigned to a med/surg unit.
"I was sent accidentally one day to oncology," she said. "Maybe it wasn't so accidental . I know I am exactly where I'm supposed to be."
Since the Cancer Center opened, it has been welcoming patients such as Velez. She knows she will always be in good hands.
"The people at Clara Maass, third floor, south annex are wonderful. You will never see better nurses," Velez said. Though she was referring to the hospital oncology unit, Vegas said she feels the same way about the new center.
At the center, Langish said staff understands their patients are busy, and they respect that their time is valuable.
"What we want to do is get them treated and back to living their lives," she said.
Rose Quinn is a freelance writer.
Oncology Nurse: 'I Love What I Do'
Though it's been 21 years since Carolyn Giordano, RN, began her career as an inpatient oncology nurse at Clara Maass Medical Center, she's been providing compassionate care to cancer patients in her own family even longer.
Before she was a nurse, Giordano was an administrative secretary for an insurance company for 10 years. While her decision to enter Clara Maass Nursing School at age 29 was the culmination of a longtime professional dream, she recently told ADVANCE that over the years she would sometimes wonder why she landed in oncology right away. Not anymore.
Looking back, she believes the many medical dramas she's experienced in her personal life, particularly her own daughter's breast cancer diagnosis last August, have helped to pave the way for any professional challenge tossed her way, especially now that she's assigned full time to the Cancer Center.
Giordano said her daughter, Lindsay Giordano, found a lump in her right breast just five months after she tested positive for the BRCA1 gene. She was 29 at the time.
"She was on the beach. She had an itch and she scratched," Giordano said.
Giordano said her daughter underwent genetic testing in March because many relatives on her father's side who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, including his grandmother, mother, two aunts and two sisters.
"There were several times I was hopping between my mother-in-law in one operating room and sister-in-law in another," Giordano said.
Giordano, whose voice is friendly and soothing even over the telephone, is quick to note the Cancer Center provides genetic counseling and testing services for those who may be at an increased risk of hereditary cancer, among its many offerings.
According to Raylene Langish, BSN, RN, OCN, oncology nurse educator at the Cancer Center, "Genetic testing has become a more popular option for people."
Giordano wholeheartedly agreed.
Richard, Giordano's husband of 33 years, is one of five children. Of the five, two sisters and two brothers tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation. Though chances Giordano's husband and brother-in-law will develop breast cancer are low, in the 5% to 7% range, chances are higher for their offspring.
Giordano said her son has also tested positive for the BRCA1 gene.
With few variations, she said most of the women developed an estrogen receptor cancer. Giordano's mother-in-law was 50 when she was diagnosed. She survived 25 years before her death eight years ago, due to metastatic breast cancer.
Giordano said her husband's two aunts have also died within the past six or seven years, both of metastatic breast cancer. One of Richard's sisters was 45 when she passed.
"I'm happy to report another sister is alive and well in Florida," Giordano said.
After Lindsay was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma, she underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery through the Barnabas Health system, and received six months of chemotherapy at Clara Maass. Mother was happy say her daughter is in remission.
Giordano admitted it was difficult being in nursing school, especially while raising two young children. But she has no regrets. Before she was assigned to the Cancer Center, Giordano worked on the inpatient oncology unit.
"I would have been a miserable person if I could not have been a nurse," she said. "I love what I do."