Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Clinical Oncology, Director, Cancer Survivorship, Cancer Risk Counselor, University of Kansas Cancer Center; Founder, CEO, Cancer Survivorship Training, Inc.
Just like many other nurse navigators, there was a pivotal time in my life when I knew I wanted to dedicate my career to cancer. As a young, altruistic senior in college, I was set to attend medical school, become a surgeon (yes, this is what I really wanted to do) and save the world. Unfortunately, life does not always go as planned and you have to take these as opportunities to truly define who you are and what path you will follow.
The Moment That Changed My Life
I can still clearly remember that day 23 years ago. It was April, and I was studying for finals during the last semester of my senior year in college. My mother, who was undergoing imaging twice a year for fibrocystic breasts, called to let me know she was having a biopsy, and told me not to worry. But the first thing you do is worry! Something felt wrong, and I decided to drive home and be there when my parents returned from the procedure. They walked in the door, both looking sad and defeated, and all I could do was hug them and cry.
My mother was 49 years old at the time and had endocrine-negative lobular breast cancer in the left breast with 18 positive nodes. That is enough to knock the optimism out of you. My mother was given several treatment options: mastectomy followed by 6 cycles of chemotherapy (neoadjuvant therapy was not an option at the time), radiation, and, because physicians thought she had a 75% chance of dying in the next 5 years, another treatment option she had to consider was a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, when these options were laid out before her, all she heard was