Radiation therapist, Deanne Robinson describes ‘patients are at the centre of everything we do’

Deanne Robinson is a radiation therapist at the QEII Cancer Centre.
Deanne Robinson is a radiation therapist at the QEII Cancer Centre.

You can feel the warmth and compassion in Deanne Robinson’s voice when she speaks about her work with cancer patients. 

A radiation therapist at the QEII Cancer Centre since 2005, Robinson’s first career was as a massage therapist. In this role, she helped to ease the symptoms of patients with lymphedema. 

An interest in working closer with cancer patients prompted her to return to school to become a radiation therapist. 

As a radiation therapist, Robinson’s role includes: coordinating patient care, administering radiation therapy safely and addressing any side effects patients’ experience, such as fatigue and dry, itchy skin. 

In addition, Robinson and her colleagues are team players, educators, technical experts and skillful in time management. 

“We are an extremely busy centre,” said Robinson. “We have seven treatment units, 54 therapists and treat an average of 150 patients a day. Patients are with us anywhere from one to 38 treatments, depending on the kind of cancer being treated and whether their treatment is intended to cure or to control their symptoms. We often become their home, their family.” 

Following an initial consultation with a radiation oncologist, patients have their first appointment with a radiation therapist. This appointment is a simulation. During this appointment, the patient is put into the position they will be in for the treatment; permanent tattoos are done to pinpoint the exact location for the radiation beam. 

A CAT scan picture is taken as a baseline and this is sent to the radiation oncologist for them to plan the treatment. If the picture from the CAT scan is not quite right, the patient has to go back to simulation. 

For people who have a head or neck cancer, this is also the time that measurements will be taken to develop a cast, which is needed to ensure there is no movement during the radiation treatment to minimize radiation of healthy tissue. 

The simulation appointment provides the detail for all treatments and is typically the patient’s first introduction to the world of radiation therapy. 

The appointment may run from one-half hour to two hours and is an important time for patient education. 

Therapists explain what will occur during simulation, the reason for the markings, what to expect and possible side effects throughout the treatment. 

They also provide information about other available supports, including: financial, speech language, mental health, spiritual as well as coping mechanisms for people who may be claustrophobic. 

“We work in teams of four and take our turn as charge therapist or team lead of the unit,” said Robinson. 

“The charge therapist ensures their team members are designated appropriately, coordinates patients who are having both chemotherapy and radiation therapy and ensures the patient starts and finishes their treatment on time.” 

A patient’s first appointment, following simulation, is about 30 minutes, although the treatment itself is only two minutes. After this, patients are in and out of treatment within 15 minutes. 

“It is a fine juggling act," said Robinson. “Our day begins at eight in the morning and our ideal finishing time is 5:30; however, some days run later. Patients are at the centre of everything we do. People have lives - including people who have cancer. We do everything we can to get them in, get them treated, manage their side effects and enable them to get on with their lives. It’s why we all got into this field.”