Irish Cancer Society Night Nurse - Grainne's Story

Updated: Feb 20

My name is Grainne Kenny and it is my pleasure to be asked here this evening, to perhaps give a small insight into a role that each of you are helping to support through your work with Relay for Life Wexford. I am a night nurse with the Irish Cancer Society, the only provider of adult palliative care to cancer patients in their own home at night.

Grainne Kenny

The Irish Cancer Society's Night Nursing team work closely with the different community specialist palliative care teams to offer nursing care to terminally ill patients and much needed support for their families in their own homes. It is an invaluable service, one I am very proud to be part of, and see it as an absolute privilege to be able to provide such person centred care to patients, and reassurance for families who are often at their most vulnerable.  


To lose a loved one is never easy, but through night nursing we are able to offer such support that while the outcome won’t change, the journey might be easier. To be at home can and does mean so much to so many.

For families to have the availability of nursing and psychological support often is the crucial deciding factor in making the decision to keep loved ones at home, or indeed to bring them home from hospital in their final days.

None of this would be possible without the amazing fundraising carried out throughout the year by wonderful people like yourselves. On behalf of all the families I have had the privilege to work with, and will please God work with into the future I’d like to say thank you. I cover the South East from Waterford to Wexford, South Tipperary, Kilkenny and Carlow……...obviously not on my own, but at times when you’re on the back roads late at night, depending on a voice to tell you ‘in 200 meters turn right’, you hope to God they know where they are going because you are very much on your own and often completely lost !! In these moments I am reminded I am a Lone Worker, travelling at night and as such I need to take care and be responsible for my own personal safety. I usually arrive before 11pm to homes, each with their own unique story and every patient’s journey unique to them, and is respected as such, with confidentiality and compassion.


Because of effective teamwork between the various Community Specialist Palliative Care Teams and the Night Nursing Team, we do not go into situations blind and as such we can hit the ground running, so to speak. Though things can change overnight, as they so often do, with our professional training and experience, thankfully, we can manage most situations, with Care Doc as back up, of course, if needed.


Personally I always felt as a parent, if your child was sick, somehow it was always worse by night as you can feel very isolated and afraid and I see similarities within my work. By day families have the much needed support of GPs, Public Health Nurses and the Specialist Palliative Care Team so having a nurse specifically trained in symptom management in palliative care is invaluable by night and often allows families to get some well-earned rest knowing their loved is in safe hands, secure in the knowledge they will be called if things change. This provides a great support to them as the responsibility of caring for a loved one at home can be daunting and emotionally draining. I have often found, once I arrive, shoulders go down, big deep breaths are taken and carers are allowed to be themselves again for a little while. To feel their sadness, as a son or daughter, wife or husband, mother or father and grieve their impending loss, without the responsibility, at least for the time I am there. Each night is different, no two patients are the same, but what is constant, I believe, is the dedication and commitment of nurses to bring the best of themselves to each situation. You couldn’t do it otherwise. Our own self care is vitally important, we are not immune to the sadness. To feel empathy for another, I believe you have to firstly let yourself open to feel. Self-care means something different to everyone, from yoga to walking, spinning to swimming but hugely necessary. We also have great support from our Night Nursing Manager and team in the Irish Cancer Society who are always on hand if needed. 


I’m often asked why I’ve chosen this nursing role, and for me it’s a difficult one to quantify or do my answer justice. To be allowed to share someone’s final journey with them, ensuring their comfort, offered with kindness and love, while supporting their family has been a huge gift in my life. It grounds me in my own life and constantly reminds me to be grateful for my blessings, and maybe not sweat the small stuff so much. As a young mother of 3 small boys I lost my husband in a road accident, and my biggest sadness was I never got the opportunity to care for him or to say goodbye. So while I can’t change the sad inevitability of a family’s situation, it gives me great comfort to know that as a Night Nurse I can support others in their goodbyes. This is a huge privilege for me, and hopefully, in time, families will be able to look back, and feel comfort from the knowledge they did everything they could.  For most, being among their own, in their own home, at a time when it seems everything else in their lives has been taken out of their control, is often experienced, in a sense, like regaining some balance, and can be a hugely positive experience for many.  I usually finish at 7am, but often stay longer if warranted. Care is handed back to the family, and hand over is given to the Community Specialist Palliative Care Team, which ensures the effective continuation of care, and I head home. Road signs are much better in the daylight! Or maybe it’s my sense of direction has improved over night, but that’s doubtful!


I often think how lucky I am, particularly on my early morning journeys home from Wexford, not many people can go to work by road and have the choice of coming home by the sea! My nightly journeys around your country roads, and through your towns would not be possible without your amazing fundraising commitments, so again , on behalf of all who benefit, and I include myself in that, I wish you well, and say a huge Thank You.