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On Surviving Breast Cancer – A Nurse’s Perspective

by Kathyrn T. Negri, RN

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Some years ago while working on the medical unit, I overheard a doctor tell a woman she had breast cancer. The woman was in disbelief. She let out an agonizing cry and started shaking uncontrollably. My heart ached for her. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would react to such news.

It wasn’t until years later that I found myself in the same predicament. As a registered nurse, I ended up on the other side of the bed. It was my turn to be told, “Yes, you have breast cancer.”

My reaction was somewhat different from the one mentioned above. To my surprise, I was much calmer. Because of my nursing experience, I knew that breast cancer was not a death sentence. This gave me reassurance and hope.

My life had taken a sudden change in course. I was forced onto the path of warfare. I was facing a battle with inflammatory breast cancer, the most aggressive form of the disease and the most difficult to treat. Despite this, I was determined to fight the battle with all my might. I was determined to do all that was required to be a survivor. Here is what it took for me to survive cancer, its treatments, and its adverse effects.

Spiritual Guidance
First and foremost, I put my trust in God to help me to accept the diagnosis. I knew that nothing was too great for him to fix. Knowing this enabled me to move forward with a positive attitude. Rather than questioning, “Why me?” I focused on following the doctors’ prescribed plan of care and on recovery. I let go and let God take over.

Because of my nursing experience, I knew that breast cancer was not a death sentence. This gave me reassurance and hope.

Strong Support System
I was blessed with a strong support system. I experienced an outpouring of concern and affection from my family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, club sisters, and church family. Each one contributed to my well-being, by sending a get-well card, calling, or visiting. Everyone’s prayers and encouragement gave me the strength and willpower to fight back. My husband and my mother were my “rocks” as well. It was most helpful when they were present at my consultations, doctor’s appointments, surgery, and treatments. They were always accepting of the diagnosis and remained optimistic. Most importantly, they were there to help me make important decisions about my treatment. Their presence was reassuring and helped alleviate my anxiety.

Knowledge
This played a key role in my survival. In order for me to be a part of the decision making, I needed in-depth knowledge of breast cancer, in particular, inflammatory breast cancer. My nursing education in this area was basic and outdated. I began thorough research on the subject and gained a wealth of information on the newest technology and treatments. This information enabled me to ask the right questions during my consultation with the medical oncologist. The answers I got helped me to understand my cancer treatment and to make informed decisions.

Collaboration with Healthcare Providers
I had the best healthcare professionals on my team. They each worked compassionately and skillfully to restore me to optimal health. Each one had years of experience treating women with breast cancer. I felt assured of a favorable outcome. Still, I was an active team player and worked in partnership with each of my physicians.

I asked the appropriate questions, I reported significant data, and I assisted in making recommendations regarding medications and treatments. I kept track of my blood results and made sure that I followed up with appointments and procedures. I was extremely involved in my plan of care. Because I was proactive, I had the best outcome.

Today, I can say unequivocally that I am a breast cancer survivor. My faith, family, and friends helped me to stay focused and keep on the road to recovery.

Going forward, I would advise anyone who hears the words, “Yes, you have cancer,” to not panic. It doesn’t mean life is over. Rely on spiritual guidance and your support system for solace. Be knowledgeable of your disease, and work in partnership with your healthcare providers. In doing so, you, too, can survive cancer.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Kathyrn Negri is assistant director of Nursing at North Shore–Long Island Jewish Health System’s Southside Hospital and a freelance writer. Kathyrn lives in Central Islip, NY with her husband and two daughters.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2011.