Jennifer Donovan

Cancer Service Manager

You don’t always need to actually experience something to enable you to empathise and help people who do, but sometimes it helps.

Enter Jenny Donovan the Cancer Services Manager at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust (SWBH). For Jenny has been nursing patients in the NHS for the last 34 years – the last 15 of which as Cancer Services Manager. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, Jenny (53) uses her direct experience of her diagnosis and treatment to provide as much support as possible to cancer patients and their families on their journey battling with cancer.

Jenny started nursing training in 1981 in Hertfordshire and early on she focussed on new ways to help cancer patients. She said: “I still remember when my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, I felt like part of him was gone because of the condition. His positive energy was not there and that made me so sad. I just wished that I could do something different so cancer patients could cope with the condition more positively. That was why I chose to become a cancer specialist nurse.”

Jenny joined SWBH in 2000 as Cancer Services Manager. She explained: “Before I took on the role, I had two options. I could either focus on being a nurse or take the senior management path. It was a tough choice for me because I had always wanted to care for people and nursing gave me that opportunity to be close to patients, especially at the most difficult time in their life. However, I knew that my management role would enable me to give more as I would be able to make significant decisions to help more people and improve patient experience in general.”

With clear goals and determination, Jenny and her team deliver excellent programmes that help improve cancer patients’ experience at the hospital. The team always strives to meet national targets in helping patients get their treatment in time; they work with the multi-disciplinary teams closely to ensure patients have a suitable treatment plan through there pathways. For the past four years, the team has been organising annual fairs for cancer patients, friends and family. In 2014, the team received the Trust annual staff ‘Patient Engagement’ award for their constant effort in improving patient experience. They are now working with the cardiac rehabilitation team to deliver a pilot project called “Physical activity and wellness programme for cancer”. By enrolling in this programme, patients complete an exercise programme that has been personally designed for them. In fact Jenny herself is one of the volunteers to sign up for this programme, because after her diagnosis she knows how important it is for her to keep up her exercise for her own well-being.

Thinking back to her diagnosis, Jenny recounted: “At that time, I felt it was my responsibility to be positive because that was what I always encouraged my patients to be and due to my role in cancer services. When I underwent treatment, I focused on the journey ahead and how to get through it, and didn’t let myself get emotional, however that was not the best thing to do. After having the surgery for 16 hours, I was told that they had found that I also had heart problem and vitamin D deficiencies having been very well all my life.

“After eight months, I started feeling depressed and emotional. I questioned myself whether I was still fit for the job that I am doing. Luckily, I received so much support from my family, friends and colleagues. I realised that I should continue my work as the experience that I had will help me to realise the issue that patients often face when they are in the hospital or how they deal with the condition emotionally.

“I really think this ‘Physical activity and wellness programme for cancer’ is very beneficial to the patients. For me, it helps me to get fit and boost my confidence. So now, I can live fully without letting the fear of cancer recurrence interrupt my life.

“I am supporting a bid to Macmillan to set up this programme. I am hopeful that it will help to change the mind-set of many patients and that cancer should never be allowed to take over their lives.”

Jenny is the Chair of West Midlands Cancer Leads for Managers and Nurses group. Her role is to link all of the cancer clinicians together to share best practice and help each together.

In her spare time, Jenny often listens to 80’s music or spends time with her friends. She enjoys travelling with her partner around the country and the world.