One evening while working as an extern during nursing school, Margaret Potter was asked by a patient, “Why would someone so young and full of life want to work with cancer patients? It’s so depressing.”
Potter didn’t see her work as depressing. In fact, this was the moment when Potter’s love for oncology nursing began.
“What I saw in that patient was a zest for life and an appreciation for the simple things that most of us take for granted,” said Potter. “It was just one of many lessons I’ve learned from my oncology patients that I knew would help me through life.”
Thirty-three years later, Potter is an oncology nurse in the infusion room at AdventHealth Cancer Center in Kansas. She knows first-hand how challenging a cancer diagnosis can be for patients and their families. Her mother was diagnosed in 2008, losing her battle in 2016.
“My mom was so afraid to lose her hair and it really impacted her,” said Potter. “When patients are going through chemotherapy and they know hair loss is inevitable, I encourage them to cut short, and then shorter. At that point, they’ll know when they are ready to shave.”
For Potter, one of her goals as an oncology nurse is helping patients find the courage and strength needed to shave their heads. In fact, Potter is so passionate about this part of her job that she regularly shaves her head in honor of her patients.
Courage, strength and beauty
For 12 years, Potter has shaved to raise money for organizations that help cancer patients. In 2023, she participated in the American Cancer Society’s Shave to Save program benefiting the Hope Lodge in Kansas City. The Hope Lodge offers a free place to stay for patients from all over the country who are undergoing cancer treatment in the Kansas City area. As a participant, Potter raised more than $11,000 for Hope Lodge and then volunteered to have her head shaved on stage at the annual event.
“When I shave my head, it’s a celebration,” said Potter. “I’m thinking about those patients who are in the process of losing their hair and hoping I can give them a little courage.”
The first year Potter shaved, she had a patient who was very resistant to losing her hair. Potter recalls the patient’s bed linens were constantly covered with hair. One morning, Potter came into work with her head shaved. After seeing Potter, the patient became comfortable with the idea and asked Potter to shave her head that day.
“Oncology is such a passion for me,” said Potter. “I choose to shave in support of those facing cancer and their families. And when my patients lose their hair and are bald, I see that as a badge of courage, strength and beauty. That’s why I shave.”
When asked what is most rewarding about her work as an oncology nurse, Potter explains how she loves helping newly diagnosed patients reduce their fear and find peace and empowerment.
“I love teaching patients and families on their new path in life,” said Potter. “And although sad, I also am honored to help a patient transition to palliative care and hospice when necessary.”
To learn more about the AdventHealth Cancer Center in Kansas City, visit AdventHealthKC.com/CancerCare.