My journey as an over-the-hill, cancer-ridden, nursing student. Never give up, never stop dreaming, don't lose your integrity or your will to succeed. Your dreams can come true. Mine did!
Published May 24, 2018
Right after the bottom fell out in the booming housing business in 2008 I found myself single, middle-aged, and looking for another job, after working in a building materials center for 15 years. They began laying off left and right as the sales plunged to rock-bottom. Our local tiny hospital was hiring, and I lucked out by getting a full-time registrar position. My HR guy saw in my resume that I had gone to nursing school after high school but never finished and convinced me to go back to school, as there is always a shortage of nurses, including at this hospital, and no matter how old I was I could always land a job somewhere. I had not been in school for 25 years, and I was terrified. I knew I would have to take all the classes I was scared to take in high school like chemistry and advanced algebra. But I decided to take one semester at a time, and if I did ok I would take another semester. I worked during the day and went to school at night or online, while raising my last child who was in high school. We were taking many of the same math and biology classes and it was fun to be learning alongside my youngest son.
The journey back to school was amazing! Not only was I able to complete the courses, I learned what I was good at. I excelled at algebra, got an "A" in chemistry, my papers in English won me a trip to Weber State University to read my research paper on Internet addiction in front of other students all over the country, including Harvard students. I did not even know I could write until I was in an environment that required me to do so. The journey was phenomenal. I found many other middle-aged people were also going back to school, and I was not always the oldest person in class. Occasionally, I was even at the top of my class. Then came nursing school.
After 3 years of working full-time and getting my prerequisites done with all A's and B's, I entered the RN program. I began going to school full-time and working only part-time on the weekends. Still 7 days a week of work and school but I knew it would only be for 4 more short semesters. Was I wrong. RN school was grueling. Our class started with 51 students, 26 graduated. Each semester more and more of us were failing out, and I just hoped I was not the next one to go. I began my student-loan journey at this time due to my hours being scaled back at work, and the debt was piling up fast. RN school at my college is roughly $5,000 per semester. I struggled with test anxiety the most. The clock ticking down on these grueling tests had never affected me before like they did in RN school. I kept passing them, however, and by the time I reached 4th semester I thought I was home free. Was I ever wrong.
In 3rd semester most of my class was on Xanax. I was going drug-free. By 4th semester a nurse in one of my clinicals gave me the test bank from my college and told me the only way to pass the grueling tests in 4th semester was to cheat. Her class had all used it and it was the only way to pass since the tests were so difficult. I found out that many of my fellow classmates also had the test bank. Five years of grueling schoolwork, working and going to school 7 days a week, came down to me cheating to pass the tests. I refused, and I failed out, 10 weeks before graduation. In our school you must submit several clinical skills videos and pass a test to get back in, and then you only have one more shot. I got back in, and while getting ready for the fall semester had my annual mammogram, which ended up showing I had stage III breast cancer.
I do blame the stress of nursing school for the cancer to be at a stage III as I was laser-focused only on school for so long. The instructors warn you there is no life outside of school, and they are right. I was in shock with the stress. I began chemo and had to delay my reentry to the following spring. I entered school wearing wigs and my classmates would just stare at me at all I was going through to try to become a nurse. Many of them knew me from several semesters prior when my video for female catheterization became a training video for several semesters behind me, yet here I was.
After I failed even more miserably the 2nd time around I found out with my situation I could have had special accommodations like being in a room by myself, instead of a huge computer room with the distractions of my classmates getting up from their seats after finishing their test to leave the computer room. I could have been allowed to have more time on the clock since I not only had chemo-brain but severe test anxiety as well. The instructors cannot tell you this. But a doctor's note can make all the difference in the world, and I did not find out until it was too late. I was ready to throw in the towel and stay a registrar for the rest of my life, or at least until we were replaced with electronic robots, which were coming. Robots can certainly be used for check-in purposes, though I doubt a robot can ever replace a good nurse, at least not in the near future. Then a nurse friend changed my mind.
Jo was a traveling RN working in our ER. She had a southern accent and an exuberant personality. She had also moved right next door to me and we quickly became friends. She convinced me that I had had too much schooling to just give up and I should get back into school to get my LPN. She was right. The next day the LPN program accepted my application and put me in their accelerated program, and 6 short months later I got my license. I now am a licensed nurse, work at a fabulous facility, love what I do which is patient care, make double what I was making, and can pay off all my student loans and other debts I acquired during schooling. Oh and the cancer? Though I am now flat-chested, the cancer was beat up and spit out, and is becoming a fading memory.
The point is to never give up. We will all get older. At age 70 what will be your biggest regrets? That you tried and failed, or that you never tried at all? Get back on that horse, live your dreams, at least try. There will be doors that slam in your face. Take a crowbar and break the damn door down. Be who you were meant to be, not what people or situations think you should be. Obstacles happen, that is life. But live fully, and honestly, there is never a reason to cheat, or take short-cuts, especially when you are dealing with a patient's life. Face life head-on, stare-down cancer. Someday we may be on that nursing home bed hitting our buzzer for a pain med or waiting for someone to take us to the bathroom. But in our thoughts, we can look back on a great life, and that we lived it to our fullest potential.
Wow just wow.
You are so inspiring.
Thank you for sharing your journey with the rest of us.
beautiful! thank you for sharing.
I honestly admire your true grit and determination. You are heroic in some ways.
However I think the lessons to be learned from your experience are; 1) You went to a terrible nursing school....was it for profit? 2) There is a very, very, weak link between stress and cancer. Your topic title is disingenuous. If stress causes cancer the cancer rates would be skyhigh and the link would be obvious. And I would be riddled with cancer!
meanmaryjean, DNP, RN
Yeah, nursing school did not give you cancer.
Have Nurse, ADN, RN
I love this story! You go, Girl!!!! Thank you for reminding us older folks we still have something to contribute!!
You go! You did what you had to do. I'm sure you had exactly what it takes to be an RN but that sounds like a terrible school you were at. How did more than half of students fail out, I'm wondering their pass rate. I'm glad I went to a school that truly cared that we all made it and that cared about their NCLEX pass rate. I'm happy to hear you overcame it all, thank you for the open honesty and inspiration.
Kooky Korky, BSN, RN
You are an inspiration!
Wishing you all the best.
Garden,RN, ASN, RN
Thanks for sharing.First of all, I never heard of nurses taking anything while in school. I can't even imagine trying to study with Xanax or anything like that in my system. I did take copious amounts of caffeine as I was working and going to school full time. I did pick up some health problems along the way, it's what I call bad living, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, all of it.
I have met many nurses who have had serious health problems because of the unhealthy culture of nursing and the exposures. I've met nurses that have struggled with infertility, from working around radiation and chemicals. Even our chemo nurse years ago, when oncology was in the dark ages, developed an aggressive form of cancer. Nurses and other health care workers, are often in the proximity of hazardous materials and do experience exposures. Apart from that, the long hours, lack of sleep, the poor diets are all detrimental to our bodies, but we are suppose to promote health in others.
I do think nursing needs a paradigm shift that takes into account the health of the nurses. We can talk about it but as a profession we need to show that we are committed to good health. Part of this is that nurse do get enough hours to sleep between shifts, as opposed to not even being able to use the bathroom. I also found that for being a profession that is about 90% females, many in their childbearing years, face a culture that is almost hostile towards family life. How can we really be promoters of health while compromising our own health?
I am glad your journey has turned out well. Just a thought, you mentioned working with building materials prior to nursing. Might you have been exposed to something toxic? You are a success story! Thanks for sharing.
I second this, as a fellow cancer survivor and Oncology nurse.
Bubbly26, BSN, RN
In total agreement with this post....
OMG, Xanax on top of Bruner/Suddath(sp?)? Good night!!!
I do love your feistiness!
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