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Elizabeth Atencio

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Oncology Nursing Supervisor

Elizabeth AtencioMy first experience with the Flint Animal Cancer Center was as a client. My Jack Russell terrier, Picasso, had been diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma and I had exhausted my treatment options at the small-animal practice where I worked. My veterinarian referred me to the Flint Animal Cancer Center to explore other options. Although I was worried and terribly nervous when I brought him in to the hospital, I was impressed with how well we were treated by every member of the health care team. Picasso underwent one more surgical procedure, but sadly, his tumor recurred and I was unsure about further options but unwilling to give up.

Picasso’s clinician suggested enrolling him in a clinical trial exploring the efficacy of a novel chemotherapy drug, explaining all the guidelines to me. I was grateful for the extraordinary level of care and concern we received. I didn’t know it at the time, but Picasso’s clinician went above and beyond to accommodate my schedule, coming in on her days off to meet us, making us feel as though we were her most important case. I found that most of the other oncology clients felt the same way and learned that every client and patient was treated as unique, worthy of the veterinary team’s full attention. I wanted to be a part of this special group so, I began volunteering in the oncology department on my days off from work; and then one day I joined the staff as a full-time oncology nurse. Now I am the nursing supervisor and I love coming to work each day.

The power of human connection cannot be taken for granted in the field of veterinary medicine. We each may have pursued this profession because we love animals, but it is equally important to clinicians and nurses alike to be able to communicate with people. Helping a client through a difficult time, when their pet is so ill, is part of the job, but it is one of the best parts of the job. I recall my feelings of fear, worry, confusion and anxiety when I brought Picasso to the hospital, so I understand those feelings.

Picasso lost his battle with cancer, but not all cancer diagnoses are without hope and that is what I want to convey to our clients. Sometimes helping to ease that anxiety is as simple as explaining a procedure, sharing a funny anecdote about their pet, or just offering reassuring words.

When I’m working with the student interns from the veterinary technology program at the local Front Range Community College, I try to share more than just technical knowledge, but also an appreciation for the integral role nurses play in the day-to-day functioning of a veterinary teaching hospital. Days can be long, meals missed, paperwork sometimes overwhelming, but the team wouldn’t work as well without the skills of a good veterinary nurse.

My journey up to this point has been exciting, educational, sometimes heartbreaking but always rewarding. I am constantly inspired by the dedication of my nursing colleagues, the clinicians, the students and the referring veterinarians with whom we work. It is an exciting time to be in veterinary medicine and a privilege to be a member of the Flint Animal Cancer Center team.


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