Nurses Faith Brooks and Tammy Pentney help create an environment where cancer patients feel free to talk openly about their condition.

Caring companions on the cancer journey

Nurses Tammy Pentney and Faith Brooks keep spirits up and conversation lively in Campbell River’s cancer care ward

Elena Rardon

Special to the Mirror


Cancer Awareness Month drew to a close at the end of April. But for some, the fight continues.

Tammy Pentney and Faith Brooks are two of the nurses working in cancer care in the Sunshine Wellness Centre of the Campbell River Hospital. With an average patient load of around 85 patients at a time, the cancer care facility is a place for Campbell River patients to receive local care close to home.

Cancer Care is a small facility, without a lot of natural light. Pentney and Brooks rush from one room to another, searching for chairs to seat everyone. They occasionally stop to banter good-naturedly with patients.

“This is pretty much an average day for us,” said Pentney, during a brief break.

She has been working in chemotherapy since 1999, although she started out in a small clinic in northwestern Ontario.

“I wanted to be able to offer patients something closer to home,” she said.

Pentney described the Campbell River facility as a “centre point” for many patients, who have to travel as far as Victoria or Vancouver for doctor appointments. Their treatment doesn’t end when they walk out the door, but they can get personalized care in a facility of this size.

“Here, we’re able to help them and treat them. This can be a place they can go for their questions,” said Pentney. “It’s probably the most rewarding nursing role I have had. No matter where our patient’s cancer journey is taking them, there is so much appreciation for what we do, from the patient and the family.”

The close-knit relationship between nurse and patient is apparent. The nurses address each patient by name, keeping up conversation and occasionally stopping to offer a supportive hand or word.

“It’s definitely an amazing privilege,” said Pentney. “It’s not work, for me.”

Brooks shared similar sentiments.

“What’s amazing to me is the patients,” she said. “They are just absolutely appreciative, pleasant, hopeful, supportive…even to each other!”

Brooks, who previously worked in the acute care centre, described herself as “floating around” until another nurse’s retirement inspired her to make a bit of a change. Her father was also about to start treatment, which she says may have influenced her decision.

Brooks says that most patients who enter the ward for the first time are scared and apprehensive.

“Even I was scared,” she laughed. “People have that look, and it’s really rewarding to see them realize, ‘I can do this!’”

Both nurses spoke about the more difficult parts of their jobs. Part of what the nurses provide in chemotherapy is palliative care, for those for whom cancer treatments are no longer working.

“We’re very realistic,” said Brooks. “When we go through that journey with them, for us to be able to ease their pain, make them comfortable, and be supportive is also super rewarding.”

“The care that we give here is a real comfort for us,” said Pentney. “We have a great team, and we work really closely with our patients. We don’t find that sad.”

The facility’s small size is often a benefit, as it allows relationships to develop and conversations to flow more easily. Brooks notes the conversations that take place between patients as a result of the room’s circular setup.

“We pretty much talk about everything,” she said. “What we hear and listen to…my eyes just open wide. You are are part of the journey with the patients.”

She described seeing a terminally ill man disclose the extent of his illness to the other patients in the room.

“It opened up a whole new conversation,” she said. “Patients were suddenly talking about how blessed they are.

“When I talk about my job, it’s almost a conversation stopper,” said Brooks. “I want to say, ‘No! It’s not sad.’ It’s not a sad environment overall.

“We do what we do in such a good spirit because of the people.”

Good news for nurses and patients alike – Campbell River is currently undergoing the construction of a new hospital. One of the building’s features will be a new and improved cancer care facility with much more space.

The new hospital will also be “brighter,” according to both nurses. One of the planned features is an enclosed atrium, where patients can spend time outside in the garden while under care.

“We get pretty crowded, so having a bigger department will be really nice,” Pentney said.