PASSION IN NURSING
OVERCOMING PERSONAL LOSS MADE NURSE MORE COMPASSIONATE
Story and Photo Provided
Watching our loved ones in a medical crisis is hard enough. But when you are an oncology nurse and your loved one passes away from the disease, it can be very difficult to return to work. Mena Evans, RN, BSN, OCN, who recently celebrated her 25th year at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Tulsa, can relate.
Mena’s father was diagnosed with gastric cancer in 2005. After undergoing a partial gastrectomy and chemotherapy, he unfortunately passed away. “My father’s passing was the most difficult time I have ever experienced,” she said.
Mena added, “I must have literally cried a river of tears for several weeks. Losing my dad was the only time I have ever felt depressed. Returning to work was not easy, but through prayer, the wonderful support of co-workers, my loving family, and, most of all, the strength bestowed upon me from the grace of God, I was able to return.”
Believing that there is always something good that comes out of something bad, Mena added, “I believe God gave me the courage and strength, so I could help others during illness and/or the loss of a loved one. It has made me more compassionate and respectful of one’s needs. Everyone deserves dignity.”
Working in the medical field was always something Mena wanted to do. She started taking classes at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah for optometry school. “Before my third year in college, I decided to work as a nurse assistant at a Tulsa hospital,” said Mena. “The work was physically and mentally exhausting, but I enjoyed the interactions I had with patients and the special care they needed while hospitalized. The experience taught me that life can change directions at any given time. I knew then it was my calling to care for the sick.”
Mena was then accepted into the nursing program at the University of Oklahoma, where she graduated with a bachelor’s of science in nursing in May 1987. She married her husband, Doug, in 1988, and they moved to Joplin, Mo, where she worked in oncology for three and a half years.
With a desire to move back to Oklahoma, Mena and her husband returned to Tulsa in 1992, and she was hired at CTCA. “After working for several years, my passion for oncology grew. I wanted to become more knowledgeable in the field,” she said. “I read, studied and then took the exam to become certified in oncology. I have maintained my oncology certification for more than 22 years. I am also certified in chemotherapy and biotherapy.”
Mena currently serves as a care manager in the CTCA gastroenterology clinic. Over the years, she has held several positions, including working with one of the medical oncologists seeing patients in the clinic and serving as an infusion nurse on weekend nights when her three sons were younger. She has also worked in the inpatient and ICU units, when needed, and frequently filled in as the house supervisor.
When asked about what it’s like working with cancer patients, Mena said, “I have to admit, I have shed a few tears at CTCA because I care about my patients and their families. We get to know them so well that they become like family. You don’t want to see them hurting in any way.”
Mena continued, “We also experience tears of joy. The best news, of course, is when your patient hears the words ‘no evidence of disease’ or ‘in remission’. Yet, each patient has a goal and their reason to fight the battle…joy can be making it to your 50th wedding anniversary or your daughter’s wedding so you can walk her down the aisle.”
For those who are considering a nursing career, Mena said, “It’s not just about giving the medications to your patients on time or completing the tasks on your shift. It’s about holding their hands when they are alone or giving hugs when they need it. It’s rewarding when patients or caregivers say they love and appreciate you, or when they send you a thank you card and tell you how much they appreciate the wonderful care you have given them.”
Mena said she has kept all the cards she has received over the years from her patients and their families. “It helps remind me that I am making a difference in what I do as a nurse.”