Cancer patients often say the disease leaves them stronger, with a clearer focus on what really matters in life. “The diagnosis can sometimes make patients re-prioritise their lives by wanting to be closer to family and friends, choosing a different career or generally changing aspects of their lives that have been unfulfilling,” says Alison Bailey, a British nurse who worked in oncology for nearly 25 years. 

Bailey was drawn to the field by a similar epiphany, she tells GN Focus via email from the UK home. As a student nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, she met a patient who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. 

“This woman showed such strength and fortitude in the face of her diagnosis that it left a strong impression on me,” she says. On a subsequent stint in Australia in her twenties, she realised that the longer-term nursing care required in fields such as haematology and oncology was something she really enjoyed. 

What has resonated with Bailey — now a Breast Care Specialist Nurse — throughout is the impact of the disease and its treatment on her patients and how they respond. 

The encounters prompted her to compile a book of patients’ experiences. One Step at a Time: Getting through Chemotherapy with Breast Cancer was published last month by Filament Publishing in the UK. We put a few questions about the project her way. Here are the excerpts.

Why did you write this book? 

A patient said that despite all the information that had been provided by the professionals and the internet she would love to be able to dip in and out of a book that had useful advice for newly diagnosed patients. I decided to pursue this and canvassed the opinions of patients under my care asking if they felt having such information available in this format would have been beneficial. The response was very positive. So I set about compiling and distributing a questionnaire to both NHS and private patients and eight years later the book is done! 

Have you had patients from the Middle East? Do they differ from local UK patients? 

I have sat in on a clinic with patients from the Middle East and Dubai with a consultant who speaks Arabic. Even though I couldn’t understand what was being said, the patients seem more modest. Even though there is [often] a difference in language, we are still able to make each other understand. Middle Eastern women tend to be very self-contained and composed and rely on family support. But to be honest, a diagnosis of breast cancer wherever you are from produces the same range of emotions. I just feel that culturally, there are different styles of expressing them.

You’ve been a cancer nurse for 25 years. Has it ever been depressing? 

Yes, of course. There have been times when I was treating patients with different types of cancer. We’d go through phases when we’d lose several, which was always hard. 

What’s the story that resonates the most with you? 

One patient seemed to sail through the treatment feeling well — only a little tired. She insisted I did my Beyoncé walk (which I’m exceptionally good at) on her last treatment day. She caught the moment on film, sadly! 

With all the awareness of breast cancer, it can seem we know all there is to know. Are we doing enough, in your opinion? 

In my opinion until there is a cure we are never doing enough. However, with the advances in the targeted therapy for specific types of tumours, the treatment has improved tremendously.

— One Step at a Time: Getting through Chemotherapy with Breast Cancer is available at Magrudy’s in Dubai for Dh64.94