“Oh wow, that must be so sad!”
“Isn’t it going to be really hard to be surrounded by cancer all the time?”
“Are you sure you’re going to be able to handle that your entire life?”
These are just a few of the very common responses I have received from friends, family and acquaintances upon informing them of my decision to pursue an undergraduate degree in Radiation Therapy. Currently, in my third year at Laurentian University, I must say I have thoroughly mastered the art of what I like to call the “smile and reassure” strategy in response to the statements aforementioned. In all honesty, standing in the middle of the frozen foods section at the grocery store is not the ideal place to educate your mother’s friend on the realities of your future profession. However, prior to my clinical experience, I will admit that these questions had caused me to develop a shadow of doubt in my ability to enter this career path. At the time, I had a very vague, and vastly inaccurate, image of what it would be like to work in a radiation therapy department. Due to the negatively charged comments made by others and my own unfamiliarity, I became hesitant. I questioned whether the stress and pain of one day working with a population suffering from malignant diseases would prove to be too emotionally challenging for me.
Fast-forward to the present. Here I stand – a mere month of clinical experience under my belt – but an entire world of knowledge gained. The radiation therapy department halls, which I had ultimately expected to be solemn, echoed with laughter and chatter as radiation therapists warmly welcomed their patients for their daily treatments. The energy throughout the department was upbeat and fast paced, quite contrary to the inaccurate image I had previously envisioned. The most pleasantly surprising, however, were the patients. During my clinical placement, I had the honor of meeting and befriending some of the most kind and genuine people I have ever met. It was truly amazing that individuals who were suffering through such life altering experiences could remain so positive and warm to those around them.
Having the opportunity to observe and learn alongside experienced radiation therapists in a clinical setting allowed me to recognize just how many misconceptions exist from an outside perspective. I gained an appreciation for the dedicated staff that continually provide unprecedented care, the incredible patients that continue to make every day worthwhile and the clinical placement itself, which opened the door to this understanding. While the negative stigma that surrounds cancer treatment facilities is one that will surely not be quickly alleviated, it is through my clinical placement experience that I can confidently say we are on our way there.