Book Journalism

How Rise can help nurses, in a nurse’s words

Back in August, I was thrilled to see that ‘Rise, Surviving and Thriving after Trauma’ had been given a five-star review in the Royal College of Nursing’s journal, the Nursing Standard.

Thrilled because they said such lovely things about my book – and delighted that they believed the book could be so useful for health professionals.

I contacted the journal to thank them – my Mum was a nurse for 40 years and her Mum before that so I wanted to thank them, not just for the review, but for the incredible work they do helping those in trauma. Valerie McGurk was the reviewer and I asked whether she’d like to guest blog about how people supporting cancer patients day-in and day-out, might benefit from the trauma advice in Rise, and my experiences of having breast cancer and a double mastectomy.

Valerie, who is a practice development nurse in paediatrics at Northampton General Hospital Trust sent me the blog below, which blew me away.

Thanks to Valerie for sharing her professional and personal thoughts here – I hope her words will help other nurses help people affected by events which change their lives.


Valerie says…

Valerie McGurk, practice development nurse, paediatrics

Valerie McGurk,
practice development nurse, paediatrics

I was interested in reading Rise, Surviving and Thriving after Trauma for three reasons.

Firstly the content related to a woman, an ordinary woman, who despite her cancer is a mother, a wife and a friend.

Secondly, as a nurse, I was interested to discover how the author had linked her story to science, the brain and how we cope and learn to deal with what life gives us.

Thirdly, I was interested in the subject because a close family member was diagnosed with cancer last year. Like many people, I turned to books and the internet to look for answers. Sian’s account and its associated links helped me acknowledge what had happened, learn to accept it and move forward.


Cancer is a traumatic episode

Cancer knows no boundaries. It has no respect for age, gender, or being a good person. Whilst research provides us links with diet and lifestyle, getting it is often a case of genetics and bad luck.

Sian’s portrayal is honest and moving. It highlights the psychological impact of having a trauma, and believe me, having a cancer diagnosis is a trauma on both the individual and the family.

Sian picks up this brilliantly and Rise is one of the first books I have read that acknowledges cancer as a traumatic episode, and recognises that the individual and their family may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder for weeks, months and years after the event, even when remission has been granted.


Coping strategies for nurses to use with patients

As a nurse, I found Sian’s book a fascinating insight into life on the other side. In today’s health service where hospitals are driven by targets, audits and balancing the books, the heartfelt content of the book will refresh the basics to any nurse.

Filled with compassion we get to consider our own practices. Does having a cancer diagnosis medicalise the patient? We can question our own practices and ask ourselves if we are seeing the person in the bed or waiting room as a statistic to achieve a target, as a diagnosis or as an individual – a mother, wife, son, daughter, grandparent or sibling. The patient comes first – they are central to everything we do.

The read is interesting in that the author highlights how the brain deals with emotional trauma, how when we are faced with something different we undergo psychological changes, and make new connections that keep developing. In essence, we can never go back to who we were but move forward becoming stronger as we go.

As nurses we need to consider the mental health and wellbeing of not only the patient, but also the family, advocating a family-centred care approach. How are they coping? Are they hiding away, almost as if they have a secret, not telling anyone because of fear or pity? Or are they developing coping strategies to help see them through what can be a lonely and isolating experience?

Reading this book will enable those in the caring profession to think about suggesting and discussing coping strategies. These strategies could include exercise, music, talking, and keeping a journal from the outset – not just offering cognitive behavioural therapy or anti-depressants when individuals are plunged back into society.

Regardless whether a person is working or studying, ‘fitting in’ after having forced time-out isn’t easy, and one cannot return to the life cycle, being expected to pick up where they left off.

Me and Mum - adult

Sian with her mum, a nurse

We need to appreciate that having a cancer diagnosis, as with any other life-changing illness, has links to the grieving cycle. The person and their family may experience feelings of denial and anger, and may try to bargain with some greater force before accepting that it has happened. It is our job as professionals to recognise the dilemmas faced by patients and to pick up on symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, aching limbs and joints and insomnia and not just link them to the illness and treatments, but to recognise that these may be an indication the person is struggling and needs our help and support to overcome their fear, loneliness, anxiety and vulnerability.

This book supports the development of coping strategies. It acknowledges the diagnosis and offers the reader practical advice to move forward, to rise. Equally it respects that we are all individuals and that we will all react differently when we are faced with a trauma.

As nurses, alongside other health care professionals, it is paramount to the care we give to see each and every patient as an individual and part of a family, and to consider what it means to them – what they are going through separately and collectively. We must acknowledge the fragility of life and the vulnerability felt by those with cancer and use our knowledge, experience and skills to provide compassionate care.


Our cancer experience redefined my family

From a personal perspective, a close family member was diagnosed with cancer last year. Like many we quickly boarded the roller coaster journey from diagnosis, to surgery and chemotherapy. I automatically went into ‘mother’ mode our family walked around in a daze, automatically moving from one day to the next. It is hard to contemplate one year on how we coped.

Our personal journey, like many others, was like walking a nightmare, and even though I have been a nurse for 37 years, it is only now that I can hand-on-heart truly appreciate what families go through. My background is neonates and babies who are sick at birth. Whilst I have often thought about those families whose babies may have complex needs in terms of needing life-long care, such as a wheelchair, a bigger car or home adaptations, it is only now that I feel I have a better and respectful understanding.

How does one regain independence, resume your studies or return to employment? Is there enough support for people once they enter remission? From a personal perspective, it appears that the individual and family is moved down the line of need – ‘the pecking order’. This book does offer help and support and a place to turn.

However, it is only as time goes by and we go from strength to strength that are we are able to survive and thrive. For me, having a cancer diagnosis in the family led to me losing my confidence in life – and I wasn’t the one directly going through it. Looking back, the experience will never be forgotten – it has become part of our family, redefining who we are as individuals and making us stronger as a family.

This book is a definite for me – it ticks all the boxes. It’s well written, has links to science, and has a humane approach to what, for many, is one of life’s challenges. A worthy read with parts we can all take away and apply to our life.

Clearly having a diagnosis of cancer can impact on one’s mental health and with Sian’s qualifications, experience, knowledge and skills she will make an excellent mental health advocate. I look forward to learning more from her.


For more info about the book, visit the Book Page.

  • Pat Boden
    September 28, 2016 at 10:44 am

    This so true, I wish that GPs would also read the book and that information re the trauma aspects was included in leaflets handed out to cancer patients it came as a complete shock to me. Thank you Sian.