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Returning the favour

April 4, 2016

Matthew Frank, 25, was so impressed by his nursing care during his battle with brain cancer five years ago that he’s well on his way to becoming an oncology nurse himself. April 5 is Oncology Nursing Day across Canada.

Grateful cancer patient paying it forward by becoming an oncology nurse

Story by Kristin Bernhard

CALGARY — When it comes to caring for patients, empathy is a desirable trait to have, and 25-year-old Matthew Frank has it in spades.

“I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 20,” says Frank, “I was in my third year of kinesiology at the University of Calgary when they found tumours in my brain.”

The experience of understanding a patient’s condition from their perspective, and being able to feel what they are feeling, is a major reason why Frank chose to become a nurse — and it’s also why he’s pursuing a career in oncology nursing.

“Having such a close connection to cancer, I have an intimate relationship with the disease and the pain it can cause,” he adds. “I feel very much connected to oncology patients — and I have a very strong drive to do everything in my power as a nurse to help them.”

Frank believes that, while there can be a great deal of suffering in a hospital setting, a nurse can greatly ease that suffering by providing excellent care.

“I want to be that nurse that made me smile while I was still in treatment,” he says. “I want to give oncology patients the same expert care I was given while I was so sick.”

Before his diagnosis, Frank enjoyed athletics as a national level white water kayaker — and always took an interest in the human body and how it works, but back then lacked a perspective on how he could capitalize on his interest.

“The idea of a gym teacher or a physiotherapist held little appeal, but after meeting so many amazing and empathetic nurses, I knew that nursing was what I wanted to do,” he says.

“Having a keen understanding of what it is like to be a patient, I wanted to able to pass on the tenets of patient-centred care as a nurse.”

After working as a Registered Nurse in Clinical Neurosciences at Foothills Medical Centre for the past year, Frank has now set his sights set on oncology nursing, where he can care for cancer patients and those at risk of getting the disease.

“Through my time as both a student and as a registered nurse, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a handful of cancer patients, with some cases presenting as very similar to my own,” he says.

“The teaching the nurses provided to both me and my family helped me to feel confident in what the next steps would be in a new and foreign process. I want to give that same help to patients who are in similar shoes now that I once was.”

Frank has also taken his experience as a patient and desire to help other patients one step further. He’s currently a Patient Advisor on the Calgary Cancer Patient & Family Advisory Council. Frank gives input on provincial patient-education programs and works with the Foothills Medical Centre (FMC) Quality Council to enhance patient- and family-centred capabilities in the delivery of care at FMC. As well, he attends events to speak about his experiences.

Now in remission and living with diabetes as a result of his bout with cancer, Frank is returning to climbing, hiking and kayaking — activities he enjoyed prior to his diagnosis — and is back to living what he calls a more normal life.

“In my time with these patients, I want to offer them the hope that a normal life can be found after a cancer diagnosis. As long as I provide empathetic and expert nursing care to a patient, whether in oncology or not, I’ve achieved my goal as a nurse.”

Oncology Nursing Day

This Tuesday, April 5, marks the 13th Annual Oncology Nursing Day, with events taking place across Canada to recognize the valuable role oncology nurses play in our provincial and national healthcare systems.

Frank says he’s also looking forward to attending the 28th annual conference of the Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology, to be held Oct. 20-23 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, here in Calgary. For more information on the conference, please visit http://www.cano-acio.ca/conference-events