by Pat Magrath – National Sales Manager
Jaylon Harkness – Oncology Nurse Navigator – Washington Cancer Clinic at MedStar Washington Hospital Center
People often ask her how she can stand working in oncology because they think it’s so sad. Jaylon’s response is “I love what I do and can’t see myself doing anything else.” When you are in the nursing profession, you are advised at times not to get “attached” to patients, but in the Oncology world those rules are often broken. She explained sometimes she’s their only support and she can’t help but get attached to her patients and loves it. “I am grateful every day for what I get to do.”
At the age of 5, Jaylon knew she wanted to be in the medical field. She pondered becoming a surgeon, but discovered Nursing was her calling. She said “Nursing provides more personalized care and I love the great bond I have with my patients, fellow Nurses and staff.”
Jaylon has been a Nurse for 6 years. While she was in nursing school, she applied for a Nurse Tech position at the local hospital. She wanted to work in the Labor & Delivery unit, but most of the slots were taken for the summer. Oncology was available, but she wasn’t interested due to her past experience with a loved one dying in the Hospice program. Her mentor encouraged her to try it because she thought Jaylon would be really good at it. Her mentor advised that if she didn’t like it, after 6 weeks, she could switch. “Lo & behold, Oncology found me and hooked me. It became my baby and I didn’t want to leave.” She provides critical continuing care and teaching as an Outpatient Oncology Nurse. “Right now, I can’t see myself doing anything else. It’s very humbling.”
Working with oncology patients has given Jaylon a different outlook on life. “Tomorrow isn’t promised.” Jaylon’s title, “Oncology Nurse Navigator” is a fairly new title in the oncology field. Jaylon explained her job is like driving a car — she navigates, guides and teaches her patients through the chemotherapy and disease process. Jaylon is in the room when her patient’s receive their diagnosis and treatment plan. She helps them deal with the symptoms when starting chemo. She’s there for them throughout their entire continuing care including hospice or survivorship. Her patients can call anytime and she is continually assessing their situation.
While chatting with Jaylon, she told me many of her patients are head/neck or lung cancer patients and often at stage 4. Lung cancer is the #1 killer due to the prevalence of stage 4 diagnosis by the time they start treatment. Often brain metastasis is involved because it’s stage 4. Her patients are fighting to live a few months to make it to a big event like their child’s wedding or graduation. Jaylon stated “no one is ever prepared for a stage 4 diagnosis, but there are occasional hopeful situations where people do recover”. She really bonds with her patients. Most want to know how long they have to live and she understands this question.
She often sees the gratitude in her patient’s faces for what she does for them. Sometimes they are the silent patient in the back, but she can tell they’re grateful by how they look at her or hold her hand. She’s humbled, honored and always ready to help them through it. Sometimes she does something for a patient she thinks is a small thing, but it turns out it meant a great deal to her patient. It’s usually the little things that mean a lot.
Where Jaylon works, they have a “Spirit Award”. Within Jaylon’s first year working in oncology, a patient wrote a long letter to the medical director describing the things Jaylon did for her. Because of that grateful patient’s letter, Jaylon won the spirit award which is given every quarter. Jaylon was grateful too and said “This is what I’m supposed to do”.
Looking down the road, Jaylon wants to go back to school to become a NP with a dual certification in Women’s Health and Adult Gerontology. She loves the gift of life and grew up around children. She’s seriously contemplating the 2nd half of her Nursing career to focus on Women’s Health and Midwifery which she’s passionate about. She says the care is completely different offering one-on-one care helping a baby to be born. She sees midwifery as a growing need. Her vision board is to open a Nurse Practitioner practice with the goal to have multiple Nurse Practitioner specialties working under one roof providing care. Nurses provide that special touch and compassion and opening a practice with that foundation is her dream.
As I wrote Jaylon’s story, it occurred to me… wasn’t that what she was thinking about focusing on when she was in school — Labor & Delivery/Midwifery? And I also thought about the circle of life and how Jaylon is seeing it, living it and appreciating it.
Congratulations Jaylon – you are well deserving of our Annual DiversityNursing.com $5,000 Education Award which we know you will use wisely!
*The Oncology Nursing Society’s definition of an Oncology Nurse Navigator: An oncology nurse navigator (ONN) is a professional registered nurse with oncology-specific clinical knowledge who offers individualized assistance to patients, families, and caregivers to help overcome healthcare system barriers. Using the nursing process, an ONN provides education and resources to facilitate informed decision making and timely access to quality health and psychosocial care throughout all phases of the cancer continuum.