The Other Side of the White Coat: My Personal Journey with Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer is not a journey I would have chosen, but I like who I am because of it.
I had been a nurse for 24 years when, in January 2004, I was asked to take on a new role within the health system where I worked. My employer assigned me to research the kinds of features we could incorporate to make our breast program stronger and more "user friendly." Seven months into this research, looking at some of our country's most highly respected breast centers and thinking about just what characteristics made a particular program "great," I came face to face with a completely unexpected finding: A lump in my own breast, discovered while performing my monthly breast self exam. Thus my professional research turned into my personal mission, an exploration of breast cancer that would include chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation therapy, and, eventually, reconstructive surgery. Today, as Administrative Director of our Women's Services and comprehensive breast program, I am proud to say that my research contributed to our bringing some of the best services available to women in our area. And, because I have been through it, I understand what a woman feels when she has just heard she has breast cancer. I understand what a woman newly diagnosed with breast cancer has to battle to understand all the specialists, get through all the tests, and make the decisions that need to be made, usually to save her own life. I know what it means to have gone through all the medical processes and to be "cured," knowing how critical it is to stay on that path of healing. I love being able to help women in our health system-both as a survivor and as a health professional.
In 2007 our local community Breast Health Coalition nominated me to serve as a consumer reviewer for the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program. It is a labor of love and is probably one of the most meaningful things I've ever done (outside of raising my two daughters!). Consumer reviewers spend two to two-and-a-half days on the panels, and it is intense. The opinions of the consumer reviewers are respected and valued by the scientists-I have seen scientists reconsider their scores because of something I, as a survivor, have said in relation to the research being proposed. I feel it is work that will make a difference for survivors of breast cancer.
I would encourage any man or woman who wants to be active, make a difference, and impact the lives of our sisters and brothers who may be diagnosed tomorrow to consider volunteering to participate on a panel for the DOD CDMRP. It has made a difference in my life.