Inspirational oncology nurse balances care with cancer

(Nursing Careers Allied Health) Oncology nurse Maria Boland has always put the needs of her breast cancer patients’ first – even when Maria was also diagnosed with the life-changing disease.
Maria, who is originally from Cooma in New South Wales, has spent more than 20 years working to assist cancer patients and for the past five years has been the breast cancer coordinator and clinical nurse consultant at Queensland’s Redcliffe Hospital.
With a wealth of expertise in oncology and haematology, Maria has helped develop a documentary DVD, titled Side By Side, released nationally last October, which assists newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, providing them with a roadmap to support.
And she established a free wig and turban library at the hospital for chemotherapy patients.
Most importantly, she has simply been there to support her cancer patients navigate the difficult terrain that forms the road to recovery.
“The people you meet are fantastic,” Maria said. “There’s good times and there’s bad times but there’s more good times and it is just being there to help them through in whatever way I can.”
Two and half years ago, Maria stepped inside her patients’ world when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Maria jokes about the response from her surgeon.
“My surgeon, he said that gives you some credibility now, doesn’t it? I said, I thought I had some previously,” she said, laughing.
On a more serious note, Maria said the diagnosis, following a routine check, came as a shock.
“It was really interesting because there are so many people that had been affected by breast cancer, and bang – it’s me.
“I disappeared from the radar for six weeks or so. Everyone was asking – where is she, what’s happened? I didn’t want them worried about me.
“I got back to work as soon as I could. I got very good at diverting conversation when it came up about me. These women had enough to deal with.”
Maria went through radiation while continuing to work. “I thought, okay I will just take this as a bit of a challenge and see how I go,” she said.
“I didn’t really know how I was going to go through radiation and I thought I would take it a couple of weeks at a time – I pushed on.
“Now, I’m two and a half years down the track.”
Maria concedes she doesn’t wear her battle with breast cancer on her sleeve because “it’s not about me”.
She does occasionally discuss it – when it will help others.
“On the DVD I do talk about myself having breast cancer,” she said.
“I think it gives them a lot of confidence, I really do, because I am really well and that’s what they are seeing.”
Maria, who commissioned outpatient oncology clinics at two Canberra hospitals prior to joining Redcliffe Hospital, was a finalist in this year’s Pride of Australia Medal.
Maria said she would love to see a dedicated cancer centre built to assist the 600 breast cancer patients, for which the hospital currently cares for, across the region.
Without the funds for the project, Maria plans to forge ahead, doing what she does best – caring and advocating for her patients. “I still really enjoy what I do,” she said.
“There’s not many people who have been in an organisation or profession for as long as I have who want to come to work on a daily basis and enjoy what you do and find challenges in what you do, so you rise to those challenges.
“You come away feeling good about what you have done for somebody.”