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Nursing's Central Role in the Care of Individuals With Cancer: 1900-1940

Brigid Lusk

palliative care, radiation therapy, nursing, nurse role, history
ONF 2011, 38(6), E1-E6. DOI: 10.1188/11.S1.ONF.E1-E6

Above all else, patients with cancer during the early decades of the 20th century needed the care of nurses. As one physician wrote in 1913, the care of a patient with cancer under a physician's direction "often devolves upon the nurse, whether the case belongs to the curable or incurable class" (Lindsay, 1913, p. 155). In the 1940s, a nurse considered that cancer nursing "provides one of the greatest opportunities to practice nursing as an art" (Smith, 1947, p. 28). Individuals with cancer required extensive nursing care. They needed nurses to support them emotionally; cleanse and dress their wounds; nourish them; relieve their pain; and help them keep clean, warm, and dry. However, the role of nurses has long been misunderstood or downplayed, and even nurses themselves have difficulty defining their profession. As author Suzanne Gordon wrote, "The odds against nurses seem to have produced a persistent and somewhat crippling identity crisis" (Gordon, 2005, p. 14). This article will argue that nurses could be termed overlooked soldiers in the war against cancer.

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