Night Nurse: ‘At a tough time, I try to ease the pain’

The Irish Cancer Society needs to raise €4 million on Daffodil Day, March 22, to meet ever-increasing demands for support. CHRIS DUNNE talks to a cancer nurse at a Cork Daffodil Centre in the Bon Secours Hospital, as well as a night nurse offering palliative care in people’s homes.

WHEN cancer invades your life or that of a loved one, it impacts every area of daily life, making your world fall in — so somewhere special offering support and help is very welcome.

“The Daffodil Centre offers support and advice in local hospitals,” says Donna Spillane, from Whitechurch, who is a cancer nurse at the Daffodil Centre in the Bon Secours Hospital, Cork.

The centre, that had 3,200 contacts with people affected by cancer last year, is staffed by specialist nurses and trained volunteers, providing practical information and emotional support.

“The Daffodil Centre here at the Bons is operating since 2011, and in CUH since 2013,” says Donna.

“The service is free and confidential and no appointment is necessary.

“If people are unable to visit the centre, we can speak to them over the phone or they can email us for information.”

Everyone is aware of cancer. One in three develop the disease and one in four diagnosed will die from it.

“People are worried about potential symptoms, and how to reduce the risk of developing cancer,” says Donna.

“We discuss genetic risk and the side-effects of treatment.”

Practical advice is a godsend when your world, as you know it, changes irrevocably.

“Some people suffer from financial pressure and worry about childcare costs and employment,” says Donna.

“Some may have to give up work and need to know about entitlements.

“We equip the person with knowledge and signpost them to available community supports like ARC House.”

Cancer can be overwhelming in every form.

“We advise on how to care for someone with cancer, including the medical, practical and emotional care,” says Donna.

“Life after cancer can be difficult to deal with as well.”

Cancer treatments can be a stressful prospect.

“We run an afternoon class, about understanding the chemo-therapy process,” says Donna.

“Newly-diagnosed patients are invited to attend, as well as family members so that they are aware of the process and side-effects.

“The programme takes place in a group setting, allowing patients and relations relate, realising they are not alone. There is help out there.

“An ear when you are worried can be the difference between consolation and isolation,” says Donna.

Reassurance often provides consolation.

“We talk about symptoms, for example, a persistent cough, a change in a mole and the necessary steps to take,” says Donna.

Walking through the cancer process with an understanding, patient ear is a glimmer of hope for a dark journey.

“Explanation and understanding often removes the fear of the unknown,” says Donna.

“Most people diagnosed with cancer experience a wide range of emotions.

“Talking openly about feelings is a huge help. A massive problem can feel lighter when you talk.”

People who have been on a cancer journey themselves volunteer at the Daffodil Centre.

“Our volunteers are brilliant,” says Donna.

“Being met and welcomed is a big plus when you are carrying a burden. The volunteers meet and greet the visitors.

“They are the first contact when someone comes in feeling vulnerable. The volunteers are an essential part of the service.

“It is great to be greeted by someone who understands. Many of our volunteers have been on the cancer spectrum themselves. They are delighted to be part of the Irish Cancer Society services, making a positive impact on people who are at the darkest point of their life.

“The volunteers are willing and able to give something back.”

Donna says her job is very rewarding.

“Providing information and giving strength and hope brings some solace,” she says.

Many volunteers will be hosting a coffee morning on Daffodil Day and collecting for the valuable services the Irish Cancer society provide to the nation.

“Daffodil Day is always well supported,” says Donna.

“The Irish Cancer Society services would not be possible without public support by donating and collecting.”

The Daffodil Centre is a place to go when you don’t know where to go or what to do.

“It is good to know you are not alone.”


Night nurse, Breda Dundon, from Ballyhea, is a friend indeed when you’re in need.

“It is a big thing to be welcomed into people’s homes,” says Breda, a mum of four who worked in liver transplant, general surgery, cardiac and plastic surgery and then palliative care.

“I work for the Irish Cancer Society with teams in Marymount Hospice, Cork, Milford Care Centre Limerick, and South Tipperary Hospice Movement.”

Breda becomes part of the family unit when caring for a loved one with cancer during long nights.

“It could be 10 days’ duration of care or it could be for just one night,” says Breda.

The service is given on a need basis.

“When I get the call to provide night nurse service, I always stay for the duration. It is nicer for the family to have a familiar face when dealing with palliative care for a loved one.”

It is often an alien situation for families to contend with.

“It can be a strange, surreal situation,” says Breda, a dedicated night nurse.

“I try to arrive earlier than 11pm and stay longer than 7am when a family is in need of night nurse service. It’s a bit more support if I go in and stay a bit longer. I build up a relationship with the family and with the palliative care nurse who has been in the home earlier.

“Obviously, if I am in the home for a week or 10 days, the family and I get attached,” says Breda.

“There is always a cuppa on the go before bedtime and conversation about how far the patient has come lightens the situation. The loved one is precious and it is important to connect with the family.

The patient is happy in their own bed at home, knowing their nearest and dearest are not far away.

“Sometimes a family member likes to sit with me through the night while I tend and watch over their loved one,” says Breda.

“They might wish to be with mum or dad. That is their call. Other times, the family are exhausted and they are grateful for a night’s sleep.”

Other people’s homes often become a home from home for Breda.

“The family members become friends. “I get to know them all, and the family history. And they get to know me.”

The night nurse is embraced into the bosom of the family.

“The family often like to show me family photos of the person before they got ill and I get a picture of them. The younger family members show me videos on their phones. We make a connection in what is a bitter-sweet time.”

They laugh and they cry. The last days of a person’s life can be so much more difficult for those who are caring for them.

The night nurse makes things more bearable.

“It is a tough time for everybody,” says Breda.

“I try to ease the situation and lesson the pain, bringing some semblance of normality to the family.”

There are perks to the job.

“I get to know every name and every family gossip!” says Breda.

“We all get on very well. The patient is typically an older person; a younger person is much more emotional.”

The night shift can be a lonely station. The night nurse is often left alone with the person whose life is finite. She provides an essential life-line for the patient and their loved ones.

“I stay awake all night, making sure the patient is pain-free and comfortable,” says Breda. “The patient is often very weak. I monitor their breathing closely and I often massage their hands and feet which is very relaxing and soothing.

“Pain is the biggest thing and even when the patient is asleep I can tell by their expression or by a twinge or a frown, if they are in pain. The aim is to eliminate any pain,” says Breda.

“We have a code of conduct we follow concerning personal care and hygiene for the patient. The family trust our judgement.

“Prescribed drugs and a syringe driver are available for use. I’m equipped to administer them and I gauge the need accordingly. I keep records through the night, which is important.”

Breda provides a willing ear.

“Sometimes the person in the bed is awake and likes to talk,” says Breda.

“Palliative home care is a supportive and effective service.”

She knows families everywhere are fearful of cancer.

“There is nobody not affected by cancer,” says Breda.

“My own mum died of cancer when I was 12.”

Do people ask how she does her job day in, day out, night after night?

“Yes, they do!” says Breda.

“I couldn’t do anything else. In a strange way, I find it very rewarding.

“Contributing at a difficult, really emotional time makes a difference.

“I think having somebody who wants to be there; who is very caring and supportive in somebody’s last journey is important.”

Breda knows that she is appreciated.

“I often get a card in the post to say ‘Thank You’,” she says.

“Recently, I got a thank you card after a whole year being with the family. Sometimes, out of the blue, I’ll get a voucher in the post.

“That is so thoughtful. They never forget me.”


There are Daffodil Centres in 13 locations nationwide providing free informal, reliable, confidential support to people and their families affected by cancer or concerned by cancer.

To contact the Daffodil Centre in the Bons Secours Cork: 021-4941941.


Or contact the Daffodil Centre at Cork University Hospital: 021-4234536

The centres are open from Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.

Information is available about:

Cancer prevention and early detection and diagnosis.

Cancer treatments and related side effects.

Palliative care services/ support and psychological care.

Practical entitlements and services available.


Night nurses provide end- of-life care for cancer patients and their families in their own home.

They can provide extra support to you and your loved one during what can be a difficult and anxious time.

The service is available so that you and your loved one will receive nursing care, practical support and reassurance.

Night nurses aim to keep your loved one comfortable and free of pain.

Night Nurses are free of charge for up to 10 nights and the service is funded entirely by the public and by Daffodil Day in March every year.

How to book a night nurse:

First, contact the health professional, namely, the GP, public health nurse, member of the community palliative care team, member of the palliative care service in hospital, who is looking after your loved one-they’ll need to make the request.

Once your health professional makes the booking, the night nurse service makes contact with a local nurse, and a visit is arranged to the family.

Cancer Nurseline Freephone: 1088-200-700.


Boots Ireland has been in partnership with the Irish Cancer Society since 2012, with the aim of increasing awareness, promoting prevention and supporting people living with cancer across Ireland.

The pharmacy chain raised €1.4 million for the Society and is sponsoring Daffodil Day for the second year in a row.

Daffodil Day takes place on Friday, March 22.

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