Out of Grief, Comes a Call to Oncology Nursing

oncology nursing

When nurse Camille Bejar enters a patient’s room, she always makes an extra effort to check in with the patient’s family, gives them time to talk and answers any questions they have.

“I feel like some nurses forget you’re not only taking care of the patient, you’re also taking care of the family,” said Bejar, an Oct. 2012 graduate of Chamberlain’s Addison campus. “It’s very stressful on them as well—seeing a family member sick is not something you want to witness.”

Sadly, Bejar learned this from personal experience. While in nursing school, both of her parents lost their fight with cancer in the same year.

Once sure she would never be able to work in oncology, Bejar found it was her calling and is now in her first month as a nurse at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America® in Zion, Ill.

“I have had amazing patients, and they give me hope,” she said. “Every cancer patient I have come in contact with I’ve seen a little bit of my parents in, and it’s a comfort to me.”

A Rough Road to RN 

When Bejar’s grandfather was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2004, she watched his interactions with nurses and knew it was the career for her. Her decision meant she would be following in the footsteps of her mother, who was also a nurse.

“[My mother] knew it was all about caring, and that’s what she instilled in me,” Bejar said. “As the years progressed, I kept falling in love with nursing, especially when my parents started getting sick and we had more interactions with the nurses.”

In 2008, both of Bejar’s parents were diagnosed with life-changing illnesses – her dad with Stage IV kidney cancer, and her mom with Stage III breast cancer a few months later. While both parents’ health remained steady at first, Bejar enrolled at Chamberlain College of Nursing and quickly stood out as an extraordinary student nurse.

“Camille distinguished herself both in and out of the classroom as an outstanding student and individual,” said Andrea Tacchi, MSN, RN, an assistant professor at Chamberlain. “Her numerous strengths include a positive attitude, tenacity, sensitivity, kindheartedness, compassion and insight beyond her years.”

As an only child, and with her relatives in the Philippines and spread around the U.S., Bejar shuttled her parents to chemo in between class and study sessions and provided care at home. As her parents began to decline further, she also began to care for her mother’s home healthcare patient—a paraplegic who needed assistance with everyday activities.

“Nursing school is undoubtedly a difficult discipline, even when things are going smoothly in one's life,” said Susan Dewar, assistant professor at Chamberlain. “Camille never lost her sense of humor, and her unique ability to keep things in perspective. Camille is, of course, intelligent and compassionate, but I think her true gift is being able to laugh when others would simply give up and fall apart.”

In Feb. 2010, her father passed away, followed by her mother on Christmas Day that year. With no family in the Chicago area, Bejar said she leaned heavily on phone calls to family, amazing friends, amazing professors and her Chamberlain advisor, Sarah Vollmer, for hope and encouragement.

“I think the stress of school was actually helpful— it made me focus on something, and I knew my parents had worked their whole lives to give me a good education,” Bejar said.

Her resolve to continue on with school inspired many at Chamberlain.

“She has always been an inspiration to me, showing that you can overcome so much if you work hard and you are truly passionate about what you are doing,” Vollmer said.

A New Beginning 

At the start of each session at Chamberlain, Bejar would email the clinical coordinator and request that she not be placed at the hospital where her father had passed away. These requests were always accommodated, but she still worried about the day when she’d need to treat a cancer patient.

“My last clinical rotation was on an oncology medical unit at Central DuPage Hospital,” she said. “Once I found out I was on an oncology floor, I was so hesitant. I thought I would be so emotional because it was still so fresh.”

A classmate told her to see how the first day went, and offered to trade with her if she felt it was too much, too soon.

“That first day I fell in love with it,” Bejar said. “Being that nurse to comfort the patient and the family, and knowing exactly what they were going through, it was just mind-boggling to me. I didn’t know I could do it.”

As the days went on, Bejar realized more and more that she couldn’t run from cancer. One patient’s positive attitude on her way to hospice solidified for Bejar she was where she was supposed to be.

“[The clinical experience] opened my eyes — that even though my parents went through this, I didn’t have to be hurting forever,” she said. “It gave me that extra push to go for the position at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.”

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