Cancer Made Me a Better Nurse

"You have Breast Cancer, it is aggressive but we have very effective treatments." I was 31 without ANY family history of cancer, how could this happen? I began to grieve, I became angry, sad, strong, and defiant all at once. The Nurse/Patient relationship just took on a new meaning. Nurses General Nursing Article

Cancer Made Me a Better Nurse

I have been a Nurse for five years, I love it. I work in a skilled Nursing facility, and I am a summer camp Nurse. Those are my two loves.

Part of my job as a Nurse in a skilled Nursing facility is to give sad news, the other aspect is to be a Nurse to rehabilitation patients. We have hospice patients as well as many geriatric patients, so the sad news tends to be related to advising a family that a loved one is moving towards death. Our rehabilitation patients typically have a goal of returning home. They participate in PT, OT, and ST, all in an effort to regain their strength. The largest hurdle here is pain control. Surgery hurts, PT and OT hurt, and pain control is vital to a patient's success.

I was a relatively healthy 31 year old female. I took a prozac a day and lamotrigine to manage my Bi polar sub-type II disease, it worked very well and I had been stable for years. I took a BP pill, but I am active, 5'6 and 132 pounds, so weight loss was not going to manage this case of hypertension. I was working as a Nurse, living life, having fun, so I considered myself fortunate.

It was June 19th of 2014, just about three weeks prior my 32nd birthday, when those three words fell into my life "You have cancer." I felt a lump in my breast in early spring, so I went through all of the steps a patient normally would when they suspected a problem. I suspected a problem, but not Breast Cancer. I was diagnosed with Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma. It was a nuclear grade of 3, 1.7 cm, and was ER+ PR+ and Her2+. I had an aggressive type of breast cancer, but I had zero family history. No explanation, no faulty DNA or genes, it was just a fluke. I began to grieve, I became angry, sad, strong, and defiant all at once. My life, my plans, what would become of them? My risk of recurrence was high, would I accomplish my dreams? Would my husband be able to handle this? What would I do? I made choices regarding my care. I saw specialists, attended support groups, and armed myself with information related to a disease that I was not accustomed to.

I made the choice to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, and afterwards I would begin chemo. I went through surgery, and recovered well. I had a Bard port a cath placed for chemo, and I shaved my head prior to my first cycle. I also gave myself a pink mohawk, because when have I ever had a chance to do that?!

For the first time in my life I understood what surgical pain felt like. I grasped it's intensity, it's hopelessness, and it's ability to be relieved. I experienced having a foley catheter post surgery, as well as it's removal. For one day I was unable to place my hands in a position to wipe my own butt. It was a humbling experience to feel that vulnerable, to NEED that help. I took more colace those weeks than I ever had my entire life, yet I still ended up with an impaction. Yes, I handled that myself. It sucked, but I experienced it. Chemo left me nauseated, unable to work, and further dependent on people to care for me. The Oncologist said that he had never seen someone as young as myself have such a reaction. My hemoglobin went down to 5.2, I earned my first blood transfusion for that. I still have my armband. I quit chemo after 4 of the planned 6 rounds due to poor quality of life. I also quit Herceptin 8 months into a 12 month plan. I found a new Oncologist whom I felt was more supportive, and she is amazing.

I returned to work 2 months ago. I saw the healthcare world through a Nurse's eyes and a patient's eyes. I have experienced both worlds. I have an intimate understanding of what pain control does for quality of life and healing. I no longer look at a narcotic card and occasionally think "Wow, that is a high dose." I took that dose, maybe even more sometimes. I have an intimate understanding of vulnerability, losing the ability to care for ones self, and grieving the possibility that life may not turn out how I had hoped. Giving bad news comes with slower, more thoughtful words. I know what it is like to hear bad news, and the way it is relayed matters more than I have ever known. I have experienced pain, loss , sickness, and the need to make my wishes known in the event that I cannot do so. I truly understand quality of life over quantity.

I offer the voice, touch, care, and compassion of someone who has been through hell and back. I am a better Nurse because I have experienced what a patient has. I have had the ultimate Nurse/patient relationship.

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Specializes in Peds/outpatient FP,derm,allergy/private duty.

You are strong, VioletKali. Your writing is clear and thoughtful as well. Thanks for sharing your experience and the greater depth and awareness it brought to your nursing practice.

Specializes in Urgent Care, Oncology.

Having cancer made me a better nurse as well. For six months nobody listened to my complaints of not feeling well and then boom, I had a pericardial effusion AND cancer. Now I make sure to listen to the little things my patients say and see if there are any missing dots to connect. You really, truly never know until you've gone through it.

I actually made a patient cry the other day. She was close to my age and had cancer a year ago. She was experiencing the aches and pains that you get after having chemo and/or radiation with no explanation from her oncologist. I explained to her that she'll never be 100% again (I haven't been since treatment) but that she could be 70 to 80% and that is still "passing." We talked for awhile and I finally felt like I made a difference in a patient's life.

Specializes in LTC and Pediatrics.

Yes, I also believe that cancer made me a better nurse. I did not get my nursing license until long after my cancer diagnosis and treatment. It causes one to stop and think that whatever you are thinking or feeling should not be diminished in any way. Listen to them and connect those dots, sometimes just listening is all that is needed.

I work LTC and so many times, what people are feeling are not being taken seriously and that really bugs me. I feel like once we have been on the other side, being seriously ill, often causes us to be better listeners.

Specializes in Med-Surg Nursing.

I had cancer too! At age 39, I started peeing blood one night at work������������������Drank a LOT of cranberry juice as my coworker assured me it was just a UTI. Erm no I had A tumor on my kidney the size of a baseball! 90% of kidney tumors are cancerous's and that was the case with me. It was stage one be clear cell renal carcinoma only stayed GB because it was bigger than 6 cm in diameter it was actually 7 cm. I thought I'd end up getting breast cancer with me before I ever expected kidney cancer!

Mine came out of the blue. Everything was fine and then one made it work in the middle of my shift at 3 AM I started peen blood with clots bright red blood. No pain at all so I pretty much thought that it wasn't the urinary tract infection. During shift report I had to go to the bathroom and having drank about 300 ounces of fluid Took a specimen cup with me because at that point I made up my mind I was going to go get checked out in the ER as I knew and respected the doctor on duty. After IVs and a CAT scan this doctors sat down on his stool put his hands on top of mine and said you have a 7 cm tumor on your right kidney. Unlike other cancers kidney cancer doesn't respond the same to chemo and radiation so I was blessed that this was discovered as soon as it was and I did not require chemo or radiation...that was April 2012. I had my kidney removed on April 26, 2012 April 26 is my son's birthday������������������

Violet, my thoughts and wishes for a complete recovery. I know you're pain. I was an RN for 26 years when I heard the dreaded words you have an abnormality in your mammograms bilaterally. I was an OR RN working on an Open Heart Team, and therefore took a lot of call. Like you I had no family history of breast cancer and I had breast fed all three of my children. I underwent stereotatactic biopsies and my left breast came back as DCIS, the right breast was uncertain. I found this out a week before my youngest son's Bar Mitzvah, and I certainly wasn't going to tell him and ruin it for him. I thank God that I had extremely supportive friends and co-workers as well as my then spouse, otherwise I wouldn't have made it through. I scheduled the Bilateral lumpectomies wit Localization, 4 days after my son's Bar Mitzvah. Not all of my family was as supportive. My sister's first response was "Oh no now I have a family history of breast cancer." I went through six weeks of radiation. At times I was so wiped out I could barely keep my eyes open, but I continued to work. Again my co-workers were extremely supportive. I developed an opportunistic infection as I was so exhausted and my immune system was compromised, and was treated for that. Then my PAP smear came back as positive. My OB-GYN did a punch biopsy and the it continued to bleed for 2 weeks. AT this point my Charge RN told me I'm sending you home, you can't continue to work like this, you have plenty of sick time accrued, and I don't want to see you back at work until you've been cleared by your doctor, and you've finished your radiation. I took the time time off and returned to work several weeks later. That was back in 1997, and knock on wood my mammograms have been negative since. I believe that this gut wrenching experience not only made me see the patient's side of this, but it definitely made me a better nurse.

Specializes in Er, Trauma, ICU, PACU IR.

I am also an RN. I was an RN for 4 years also when diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 42. Considered young for the diagnosis. I always considered myself a compassionate and empathetic person and nurse. Cancer is definitely a game changer. I went thru what I like to call the stages of grieving. I didn't realize it until afterwords... Looking back on the events and emotions. I was miserable. I had a been told I had an ovarian cyst for 8 months when they decided they should take it out. It was about 10 minutes under anesthesia when it was over...I woke up being told I had cancer. I also have no family hx. A week later total abdominal hysterectomy. They took my cervix appendix omentum in addition to all my "girl" parts. I was also ER+ PR+. After sx it was suggested I do IV and IP chemo. I refused. My dr told me I would die if I didn't do chemo. I had 65 staples from pubis to sternum. Miserable. They also wanted to put me on tamoxifen. I also refused that. It was a quality of life issue. I have too teen boys and am a little over 4yrs out. They were 13 and 12 at the time and I felt they were taking care of me more than I them. It was horrible but here I am. For the most part healthy but always waiting for the reoccurrence. I was back to work 4 mos after sx. Scans have been clean. It did leave me with some other chronic issues but none that are life threatening or anything I can't deal with. So I am a different person. I am a better nurse. I NEVER judge and pain is very subjective. I LOVE my job. I love my patients and I LOVE life. We are sisters in so many ways. Hugs, Michele.

Specializes in Critical Care, Education.

Me too! Me too! Defeated it twice.... two completely different varieties. Maybe we should have our own online community, huh?

Being on the other end of the thermometer - for any reason - helps us develop a patient perspective. But there's nothing like being faced with a potentially life-ending diagnosis to move you into a very different realm. I now take every opportunity to help 'school' my nurse colleagues. Luckily, my job gives me a very large soapbox.

I often share my experiences to add a patient's perspective to initiatives like Bedside Shift Report to help nurses understand that it's more than a patient satisfaction 'thing'.... with examples of how it helped me stay informed and in control of my treatment. I hope y'all are using your powers for good also.

cancer hits like a girl.

I had cancer when I was 16 and it made me want to be a nurse. Worked oncology ever since. Now in NP school. I love it.

I am looking forward to seeing what kind of difference i can make, as well. I just recently finished my last round of chemo, as well. I recently lost my 14 yo son to suicide (last August....My god has it been almost a year, already??).

I had been having symptoms but I ignored them, because I was working...surely that wouldn't be happening to me, right?? Anyway, after he died it took me a while to even want to live so there was even more reason to ignore those symptoms. I went so far as to make bargains with the universe to let me get hit by a car, or die in my sleep just so I wouldn't have to live, but would no longer have to carry the pain or continue on for my other 2 I wouldn't have to feel guilty for taking the easy way out....but I was declined that option.

I finally went in to the ER one night after feeling a lump in my abdomen....When the NP came in after the ct and sat down on the end of the bed with a big sigh, I got really scared. She informed me I had a "pretty good sized mass, about the size of a soccer ball (ended up being 17cm)," on my left ovary.

After getting into the thick of things, it was first thought to be stage 3 ovarian cancer, because of the tumor on my ovary, but after the surgery it was found that I had a 2nd mass in my uterus. They were unsure if I had uterine cancer that had spread to my ovary, or vice versa....Turns out I had stage 3 uterine cancer, which is much better than ovarian...

Anyway...instead of turning this into a book, I did chemo and my last treatment was in May. I'm still not 100%, but I'm ready to continue living...and living with a purpose...Part of that leads me to want to be of service to others. True, caring, compassionate service.....Yeah, I'm actually hoping to be one of "those" kind of nurses....

Really appreciate hearing your story.

I just had my 34th Birthday! 2 years a survivor and continuing to kick cancer's behind.

Specializes in M/S, Pulmonary, Travel, Homecare, Psych..

" I also gave myself a pink mohawk, because when have I ever had a chance to do that?!"

Loved that.

And I appreciate hearing your story. As a fellow nurse, I feel you have a better understanding of how to express things so we could get a little insight into what the experience was truly like.

Best wishes.