The Cancer Center’s Story Project is an effort to capture stories from our community of patients, friends, family, clinicians, and staff who have been affected by cancer in some way. This is Esther's Story.

  • Esther O’Dette is a master of all trades. She is an oncology nurse at the Cancer Center, but her additional current job titles and responsibilities include: staff specialist, patient education and enrichment, clinical resource for the hub, spiritual caregiver, and Reiki master.
  • "It’s no longer just chemo, radiation, surgery; it’s also mind, body, and soul."

"I have been an oncology nurse for the past 35 plus years, and I have been a GI practice nurse since 2004. Over the last couple of years I have been more involved in patient education and enrichment, making sure the patients are more comfortable, navigating wait rooms, being present as needed."

What have you learned about life since you started working here?

"How to live it, how to enjoy it. I know now not to take anything for granted."

What is the toughest part of your job?

"Watching patients die. I have worked with death and dying for a long time; it doesn’t get old. Watching the compassion of families, coming together in the toughest parts of their lives. The hardest thing is to see that people are hurting, but you can’t fix it. You can work with their emotions, and work with what’s going on. I don’t draw a wall, because we’re all people, we’re not robots. It’s okay to show your own emotions, and for them to know you’re caring for them emotionally as well as physically."

Have things changed in the past 35 years?

"Our patients with cancer are living longer. Our clinical trials are more extensive, there are more resources for patients now. Years ago we didn’t know as much. It’s no longer just chemo, radiation, surgery, it’s also mind, body, and soul. How you work with your patients, how they work with their disease, sometimes it’s a mind game. If there is a spiritual background, those are the changes. There’s more than just medicine. There is more and more that can be done."

Is there anything else you want to say?

"We as healthcare professionals have always looked at patients as extended families. We know more about them than their families do sometimes. If you’re scared, talk to us about it. There are no stupid questions. If there is one to ask, ask it. Keep asking if you don’t understand. Stop and talk about it. I don’t want any of our patients to feel alone. They are all here for a reason. We are here to treat them as a whole person. It’s not just a diagnosis, they are a human."

"I can’t see myself anywhere else. People say, 'Why oncology? Isn’t that difficult?' It’s a special type of nursing; it’s a special type of care. Compassion, empathy, understanding, that’s what the Cancer Center is all about. Death and dying, living, it’s all part of that. Life can change so quickly, but to be a part of the care that we give these patients, it just makes it all special. All of our patients are special. Their support, their emotions, I am a better person because of my patients. They have shown me how to live."

It’s no longer just chemo, radiation, surgery; it’s also mind, body, and soul.

Esther O'Dette

This interview took place on January 18, 2017 and has been edited for clarity.