By Lisa Blackburn, MS, APRN-CNS, AOCNS®

Practice reflection is a critical element of self-care for an oncology nurse, and one way to reflect is through storytelling. Whether it’s sharing your own stories or your patients’ stories, writing them down and speaking them aloud to yourself, your family, a small group, or more can be a healing self-care experience.

What Research Tells Us

Storytelling can appeal to nurses on a number of levels: it is entertaining, it evokes emotional responses that may be pleasurable or cathartic, it promotes greater resilience and situational understanding, and it fosters hope and builds on the tradition and group identity of nursing. Storytelling can be a simple yet powerful tool to contextualize and humanize nursing, facilitating a deeper understanding of ourselves as nurses within the nurse-patient relationship.

How to Practice

A reflective journaling exercise in the THRIVE Program: Building Oncology Nursing Resilience Through Relationship-Based Self-Care asks the nurse to recall one of the specific patients who has had an extreme impact on his or her career, either positive or negative. Each nurse reflects on the story of that patient during an hour of quiet, uninterrupted time to journal his or her answers to a set of questions (see sidebar).

The journaling responses are adapted into a dramatic reading where each nurse speaks in the voice of his or her patient. The exercise is a powerful self-demonstration of the influence that the therapeutic relationship has on both the patient and the nurse. Facilitators tie together the messages with content that demonstrates that resilience is strengthened each time a nurse spends time processing past patient experiences.

Several themes have emerged from the exercise:

  • Thank you.
  • You made a difference.
  • You advocated for me.
  • You connected with me.
  • You protected me.
  • You taught me.
  • I forgive you.

The exercise ends with facilitators reading the following script: “Our patients teach us with their messages to you, their nurses. As caregivers, we experience life’s intimate joys and tragedies as we stand next to our patients. We may sometimes feel wounded by these experiences, but if we truly listen to the messages, our wounds may be healed. This means there is a benefit to these intense nurse-patient relationships, no matter the outcome. The act of acknowledging this could be a turning point for each of us. The process might bring us joy and most certainly will bring us greater peace of mind and spirit. We avoid suffering only at the great cost of distancing ourselves from life. In order to live fully, we may need to look deeply and respectfully at our own suffering and at the suffering of others. If we choose to take this deep look, we will find that in the depths of every wound we have survived is the strength we need to live with joy!”   

To learn more about the THRIVE Program, email