Barbara von Barsewisch

Haematology clinic nurse specialist

Barbara von Barsewisch worked in the NHS in London for over 30 years. During  her career she was invited to be a member of the panel updating the NICE Non-Hodgkin lymphoma guidelines, has updated various Lymphoma Action patient information leaflets and was one of Lymphoma Action’s first clinical nurse specialists to be invited onto their Medical Advisory Panel. Barbara has worked with and contributed to other blood cancer charities over the years. She is also involved in various ways with the National HIV Story Trust’s films, records and stories of those affected by the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s and ’90s. She has been one of the Trust’s voices for those who didn’t survive; to honour those who did; and to educate those who live so freely today.

Barbara regards herself as having been a tiny cog in a vast machine, which allowed her (like many of her colleagues) to find her niche. As she liked and valued continuity, she chose chronic conditions for her career, first HIV/AIDS, later malignant haematology. As she says, “Working in HIV was a time of great learning. True multi-disciplinary care emerged, with a holistic approach to patients’ needs and their loved ones at a time when most patients died from complications of AIDS. We were all learning at the same time as pharmaceuticals were being developed which finally turned around the prognosis and restored quality of life to people affected by the virus.  Later I transferred the skills I’d gained, to patients with blood cancers. Even though treatment has improved for blood cancers, all face uncertainty. The same existential questions arise: ‘Will I die?’ ‘Why me?’ ‘What will my future look like?’ The fear of the unknown is similar for all, whatever the cause of illness.

“Over my nursing career I have learnt a great deal from the patients I have looked after, especially how to cope with adversity in one’s life. Equally I have learnt a great deal from clever, dedicated and amazing doctors. Last but by no means least I have learnt from my nurse colleagues over the years,  some of whom have been extraordinary role models. I have become a different person by the choice of career, and a better person for it.”

Broderip Ward, Middlesex Hospital, London. Photo courtesy of Gideon Mendel