‘She cared for my soul’: A cancer nurse’s impact on her patients

Shaving your head from chemotherapy doesn’t have to be a traumatic memory. In fact, nurse Katie Steichen believes it can be a moment to honor her patients.

Katie Steichen, BSN, RN, BMT-CN

“I tell patients that we’re going to make this an experience for them,” Steichen, BSN, RN, BMT-CN, says. “It can be something that’s meaningful.”

Steichen’s efforts to change the narrative around losing hair during chemo treatments included throwing what one patient called a “party” with some of their favorite music.

For that same patient, Steichen’s positive philosophy carried her through some of the hardest days in the Adult Stem Cell Transplant Cellular Therapies Unit. Steichen says that while patients don’t have control over their diagnosis, she wants to empower patient’s ability to choose.

“My patient didn’t have a choice whether her hair would fall out, but she got to choose how she wanted to experience losing it. I wanted to honor that,” Steichen says.

More than physical support

Steichen’s patient nominated her for a DAISY Award, sharing about her overall experience with the nurse.

“She listened to me vent, tell 1000 stories about my kids, and cry if I needed to,” the patient wrote in a nomination letter, adding how the Steichen “not only cared for my body–she cared for my soul.”

Calling it the highest compliment, Steichen said the patient’s words sum up how she views patient care.

“To me, that’s the epitome of being a nurse,” she says. “That’s what they teach in nursing school. They’re not just a patient in the hospital bed. They’re a person.”

Coincidentally, Steichen is back in school, working towards becoming a nurse practitioner, hoping to connect with patients and colleagues in new ways.

Her interaction with this particular patient happened when visitors were limited in the hospital to help limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Patients in Steichen’s unit were particularly vulnerable in their immunocompromised state during treatment. To keep their patients safe, nurses filled the role of traditional visitors.

“Our patients are here for a minimum of 30 days while they receive treatment. So as nurses, we ended up being their support system physically and mentally because most of their interaction each day came from us.”

Prioritizing empathy

When asked what she would tell a younger nurse just starting in their career, Steichen said to be curious and willing to listen.

“Sometimes patients just want to get something off their chest or just want to vent about something, and it’s important for us to support them,” she says.

Steichen says that, while it’s normal for the care team to see patients without hair, it’s not normal for the patients themselves, making empathy a top priority.

“We all aim to educate our patients on hair loss during their stay,” says Steichen. “Beyond that, we just try to make their stay better however we can.”

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