Faces of Cancer: Tri-City nurse a warrior in chemo ward, on wheels

By Andy Perdue, Tri-City HeraldOctober 12, 2011 

It takes a special kind of person to be an oncology nurse, someone who can reassure and comfort those who are facing an immense and frightening challenge.

Laila Ghan is on the front line of the war on cancer during the day -- and she laces up her skates to take on a more enjoyable battle in her spare time.

Ghan, 32, studied nursing at Columbia Basin College. She decided to go into oncology while working at Kadlec and now is the primary oncology nurse for Dr. Basir Haque at Columbia Basin Hematology & Oncology in Kennewick.

Being an oncology nurse can be stressful, but Ghan maintains a bright and gentle smile throughout her day.

"It takes a lot of empathy," she said. "You really have to look at the situation people are in and understand they are afraid and don't have any control."

The idea of receiving chemotherapy is frightening, especially to new patients, so oncology nurses must do their best to put them at ease.

"They're scared when they come in that it will be a dark cave, and we will do horrible things to them," she said. "I'm trying to make patients' experiences more positive. You have to give them a lot of love and help them get through it in a positive way."

By the end of each day, she is tired -- yet uplifted by the smiles and kind words she receives from the warriors in the chemo ward.

"I get a lot from my patients. We're in it together."

In her spare hours, Ghan prefers a good rumble. Nearly five years ago, she was introduced to the sport of roller derby by a friend who took her to a bout in Portland.

She was entranced and decided to start a team in the Tri-Cities, so she co-founded the Atomic City Rollergirls, often filling the Toyota Arena for its bouts with teams from Walla Walla, Hermiston, Spokane, Ellensburg and elsewhere in the Northwest.

She gave herself the nickname of Schawana Boom Boom, inspired by the town near Vantage. Her number, 239, symbolizes plutonium in keeping with the team's name.

"You're creating your own superhero" by coming up with a roller derby name, she said, and she loves battling cancer by day and skating against opponents in her spare time.

Now that the team has more than two dozen members, she has backed away a bit, as she has sought to find a little more balance in her life and pull away from too many commitments.

But she has no plans of giving it up.

"I love it so much. I can't stop."

And that's the attitude she takes when she is helping a cancer patient make it through a tough round of chemotherapy.

-- The lavender ribbon we are using in this series represents awareness of all cancers.

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