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Jonne van Zanten: ‘I mainly see the child, not the clinical picture’

Pediatric oncology nurse Jonne van Zanten has worked at the Princess Máxima Center since 2018. At the day care center, where she is now, she experiences everything, from silent grief to great fun. As a nurse, what can you do for parents and children? ‘You never feel what they feel, but real attention, real listening, that’s what makes the difference.’

‘Children are very pure. They can be very angry with me when I have to do something unpleasant. But when it’s over, they carry on chatting just as happily.’ Before Jonne van Zanten came to the Máxima Center, she was a pediatric nurse at the St. Antonius Hospital. That was one of the shared-care centers. Jonne was immediately captivated by the children with cancer she encountered. ‘I noticed that I especially liked the psychosocial support of families. The worst-case scenario for parents is that your child gets cancer. In counselling you do much more than just the purely nursing work.’

Small signs
As a pediatric oncology nurse, you need the parents badly, says Jonne. After all, they know their child best. ‘Parents know a great deal about their child’s illness. You always have to listen carefully to what they think is important. The treatment will only work if you do it together.Jonne is always curious about the parents and children she is dealing with. ‘What are these people like? What do they find especially important? What is of real value to them? Of course, the technical part of the job has to be good, from puncturing to measuring and weighing. But it’s also about picking up on small signs: what does this child or parent need right now?’

Getting a coffee
In the Máxima Center interview on October 5, 2021 Jonne told us that she lost her husband to cancer a year and a half ago. ‘Once, when I was in the hospital and was at the end of my tether, a nurse asked me very simply: Shall I get you a cup of coffee? That was exactly what I needed: a little personal attention. I also bear that in mind at the Máxima Center. I always see the child – and the parents – as a human being, not as an ‘illness’.’ According to Jonne, you can make a difference by properly assessing someone’s needs. ‘Sometimes I withdraw, when I feel that a family wants to be together. And take a teenager who listens to music with his hood up. He’s really not interested in a chat with me.’

Good balance
Jonne is constantly impressed by the fear in parents who come in with their children for the first time. ‘With every child I think: How unlucky you are! I sympathize with the families, but don’t share their suffering. You can’t do that in this job. However, at home I do think about the children quite often. For example: So and so had a scan today. What will it show? But I’m not losing sleep over it. Finding the right balance, that’s what I had to learn, although it’s also part of me, as a person. I’ve had my share of mishaps when I was young, for example when my father died when I was 13. I’ve learned to deal with loss at a young age.’

Taking care of each other
Jonne is happy that there is room to share feelings within the Máxima Center. She believes it is very important to laugh off the tension with colleagues every once in a while. ‘As a team we also want to be there to look after each other. And we have Rianne Maillé, our Professional Support Consultant, who you can always turn to.” If you have one center for pediatric oncology, all the difficult things come together in one place, she continues. “And yet: even though it can be tough, it’s really great work. I have another ten years until retirement, and I’m going to complete them!’

Máxima interviews with Frits Spits
On October 5, 2021, Jonne van Zanten was one of Frits Spits’ guests in his second episode of a series of Máxima interviews. In these interviews – with personal stories and great music – one question is always central: “What’s it like to be at the Máxima Center?” Besides Jonne, the following people were guests in episode 2: Ronald de Krijger (pathologist), Isa Steenbergen (treated for neuroblastoma five years ago) and her mother Elise Steenbergen (Máxima ombudswoman). Click here to listen to the interview.