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Human face of cancer treatment

By Josh Jennings

Confronting images are common for this radiation therapist, writes Josh Jennings.

Radiation therapist Lisa Crawford says the cancer patients she sees can have tumours growing inside them for a long time before they experience the sort of symptoms that prompt them to visit the doctor.

Consequently, sometimes when Crawford surveys their scans to identify where to administer treatment, the images she sees can be confronting. Some of the patients' tumours might be "football-sized" by that stage.

Crawford, a radiation therapist at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, divides her work time between radiation treatment and radiation planning rotations. The planning aspect of her role involves using scans to determine where to target treatment, and the treatment aspect involves administering treatment to patients five days a week for five seven-week stints.

She is rostered to work in treatment at present. She follows a series of precise instructions to get the patient into the correct treatment position, observes the patient through cameras to ensure they are still and relaxed in their position, and operates the machine to deliver the treatment.

"A typical patient's treatment might take 15-20 minutes, depending on complexities," she says.

"We would operate the machine and the machine would move to different angles and give a little bit of radiation."

Crawford says she sees all kinds of patients and that they respond to their cancer in different ways. A few weeks ago, for example, she worked with an intellectually disabled patient with high anxiety. The challenge was to carefully communicate the procedure to the patient in a way that would help calm the person.

"The patient could sense we were taking a bit more time than they anticipated, but I made sure they didn't get over-anxious by informing them just how routine the situation was. They had their arms above their head for about 40 minutes, which would have been uncomfortable."

Crawford completed a bachelor of applied science (medical radiation) at RMIT in 2006. She began working at Peter MacCallum in 2007 after nominating the hospital as her first employment preference through university. Recently, she has combined her clinical work with an educator's role in which she trains and develops new radiation therapy graduates. She says her career aspiration for the next two to five years is to become a permanent deputy charge. This gives her the opportunity to manage the team she is part of.

"It's making sure other radiation therapists who are more junior feel well supported in planning or treating patients but that they also have the opportunities to develop and expand on their knowledge and progress in their career," she says.

"Peter MacCallum is also going to be moving to the new site, so it's an exciting time."


Published: 01 December 2012

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