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More than 3,000 oncology nurses gathered in New Orleans to teach and learn from each other, mingle with colleagues, and celebrate their profession at the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Congress 2012. In his welcoming remarks, now Past-President Carlton G. Brown, RN, PhD, AOCN®, reported to the assembled crowd that nurses were voted the most trusted health care professionals in America for the 12th consecutive year, prompting a well-deserved round of applause. 

Brown explained that ONS Congress 2006 was supposed to convene in New Orleans. However, a storm named Katrina changed the plans. But, ONS promised its Congress would come back to New Orleans. And without further ado, chapters from the host city opened ONS Congress 2012 in true New Orleans style. As the music played and poppers exploded into streamers, members led a Mardi Gras-style parade through Hall J to center stage, tossing beads and candy to the crowd along the way. Other revelers in the opening parade were members of the ONS Board of Directors, this year’s award winners, and more than 100 oncology nurses from around the world.

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Brenda Elsagher, a speaker, author, and comedian, delivered the keynote presentation, “Laughter With a Message: A Patient’s Perspective on Humor and Healing.” Elsagher, a colorectal cancer survivor, admitted feeling a little intimidated about speaking to a group whose members had an impressive array of degrees. She was not a clinician and had no initials after her name, so she decided to create her own. She came up with LRF—Living Rectum Free. 

Elsagher asked everyone in the audience who has been practicing in nursing for more than 20 years to stand up, and an impressive group of nurses stood up. She then asked those who were practicing for more than 25 years to remain standing, more than 30 years to remain standing. When Elsagher got to 50 years of practice, no one was standing so she went back to 49 years. Nine nurses returned to their feet! They were invited to join Elsagher on the stage. 

Next, Elsagher asked nurses who were practicing for less than 1 year to stand up. Eight nurses stood up and were invited to join the group on the stage. She asked for their thoughts on managing a successful nursing career. Both the experienced and those new to nursing offered similar advice: keep an open mind, seek opportunities to learn new things, and keep your sense of humor. 

Recounting her journey from diagnosis to survivorship, Elsagher demonstrated the value of a sense of humor and how humor enhances communication and can make talking about taboo subjects easier. Appropriate humor can help patients and family members relax during difficult situations. Laughing, like aerobic exercise, increases oxygen to the muscles and decreases tension. Laughter helps kick the immune system into high gear, stabilize blood pressure, and facilitate digestion. It also promotes an overall sense of well-being. Most importantly, laughter can be a powerful distraction from pain. 


Laurel Northouse, RN, PhD, FAAN, delivered the Mara Mogensen Flaherty Lecture: “Helping Patients and Their Family Caregivers Cope With Cancer.” Current cancer treatment regimens allow patients to receive much of their clinical care at home. As a result, family caregivers take on a tremendous responsibility. 

Northouse discussed the important role nurses play in educating caregivers. She offered practical ways nurses can help provide care such as working as a team with the family caregiver and making sure that person is involved in discussions about the patient’s care and progress. 

Another important role for nurses is to advocate for the caregiver. They should ask the caregivers how they are coping outside of their caregiver role. Caregivers may need to be reminded of the importance of taking care of themselves such as eating well, maintaining their own health, and most importantly, planning time off from their caregiving responsibilities. 


Congress 2012 offered more than 40 sessions, almost 290 posters, and up to 20 hours of CNE credit over 4 days. Click here for all of Oncology Nurse Advisor‘s coverage of Congress 2012. ONA