Meet Nurse Mary

Nurses play a vital role in cancer care for children at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH). As with childhood cancer care around the world, nurses are vital in not only administering treatment but also helping families to deal with the stresses of cancer. We caught up with Nurse Mary who works on the day care unit at KBTH to see what life is like as a nurse in Accra. 

“I used to work on the oncology unit for much of my career but after retiring, Professor Renner asked if I could return to help support the team at the day care unit. I have been a nurse for over 36 years and I hope my experience can be passed onto the rest of the team here when I finally do get to permanently retire! 

“I wanted to be a nurse because when I was young I always had an urge to help sick people. I saw a nurse when I was a young child once who was caring and giving attention to others that would otherwise have no hope and that really appealed to me. 

“Working at the day care unit can be a very happy place, especially when you see a sick child regain their health but it can also be very sad when you see some young ones who are very unwell and nothing can be done for them.” 

Nurse Mary spoke with a smile on her face, whether talking about children that have now passed or those that have gone on to university, work or to even start their own families; 

“There have been many, many cases that I remember so fondly. There are even some that we thought would not make it but eventually have survived. The biggest challenge is making sure we can keep children in treatment for as long as they need to be.” 

Treatment abandonment is an ongoing problem in most developing countries, including Ghana. Many children arrive at the hospital and start their treatment, but return home due to the financial strains before their treatment is complete. Nurse Mary explained how reducing treatment abandonment is now one of the biggest priorities for staff at KBTH; 

“The mothers can see their child recovering, in many cases a child would arrive with a swelling that would eventually reduce. When mothers see this, they assume everything is finished and their child is better, but this isn’t the case. Even those that do complete the treatment will not return for periodic check-ups because they cannot afford to travel to hospital. If the child relapses, families will wait until things get out of hand before returning to hospital meaning all previous treatment has been a waste. They simply cannot afford the treatment or even the cost of travel to get to the hospital in the first place.” 

Despite these obvious barriers to treatment, Nurse Mary remained upbeat about her role and how things can be improved; 

“We can change this by raising awareness and increasing the chances of early detection. Unfortunately, the only cancer units available are in Kumasi and Accra, so we need to train more healthcare workers to be able to support more children across Ghana and beyond.” 

“We need more funds to support families. Many of the parents staying at the Mother’s Hostel stay on even after their child has been discharged as they cannot afford to travel hundreds of kilometres home and back to hospital for period check-ups and treatment. With more funding, we could pay for more essential treatment and transport costs to support these families.”