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Home > Newsroom > Publications > Progress, Fall 2005

Unsung Heroes

Phil Rupp, M.S., N.P.
Nurse Practioner, Department of Urology

How did you get started in oncology nursing?
I joined the Department of Urology in 1994 to conduct patient histories and physicals. I have a master's degree in gerontological nursing and I've always had an interest in men's health, so this was an opportunity to combine both. That same year, the prostate cancer support group was started, and I got involved with that. I've continued to focus on both of those areas ever since.

So you're with patients through their whole journey. What are some of the challenges you've helped patients meet?
One of the biggest is helping men communicate. I'm one of the first people a patient meets after being diagnosed and referred for a biopsy.The shock is still fresh, and for so many of these men, this is their first experience as a patient. It's a stressful, frightening time, so I try to help them voice feelings they struggle to express. Because I'm involved with a wide range of patients through the support group, I can pretty much tell who will be able to talk about things and who needs some extra help -- you learn to read people in this job. Men in general, and, I've observed, especially those who work in fields like engineering, tend not to want to discuss their disease. But I've seen what a difference it can make when patients and their partners can connect better.

Give us an example.
A common challenge is discussing sexual function -- a major issue in treating prostate cancer. In the support group, I've seen again and again how men and women come at this issue from different vantage points. For men, sexual function is central to their self image. Any loss of function renders them 'less of a man.' But women consistently say that sexual function is important, but far from the only thing they want in the relationship. Helping men see this is a big hurdle, and the support group really helps.

Women take part in the prostate cancer support group?
Absolutely -- we encourage spouses and partners to attend and share. Women are very much invested in their men -- something I'm not sure men fully appreciate.

Nursing takes you out of the clinic, too. Tell us about your work in the community.
Recently, I've joined with other nurses to speak to high school students about cancer. I discuss testicular cancer -- pretty timely, since it's most common in men 15-30. Both the boys and the girls ask great questions -- they don't hold back! It's great to be able to let young men know the importance of self-examination. Early detection makes all the difference.

Do you think being a man helps you succeed in your area of nursing?
I do. In the clinic, the average age for a prostatectomy is 55, and I'm 51, so I can relate as a peer to many of our patients. In my talks at schools, I think young men feel more comfortable asking questions of another man.

What's the best part of being a nurse?
Without a doubt, it's interacting with patients. Nurses do for patients what they can't do for themselves. In cancer, that means getting them through the experience and out the other side. It's the most rewarding job imaginable.


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