Donna: Who Nurses the Nurse?

Cancer Patient with Nurse

Where do you turn when you’re a person who has spent their entire career caring for and treating others, and now it’s you who needs care?

Essentially it comes down to this question: Who nurses the nurse?

If you’re Donna S. of Pasadena, Maryland, the answer is that you move forward with people who know and care about you. That’s all you can do.

A Nurse's Health in Question

In 2001, Donna, found a lump in her left breast. A Registered Nurse who had spent years treating and counseling patients, Donna was concerned, but said she felt at the time she had a good grasp on health issues and would know how to handle such a situation.

But as it turned out, while she did have a good grasp, she was not fully prepared for everything that would follow.

Who would be?

Over the next 10 years, Donna would go through two mastectomies, countless hours of chemotherapy, and two reconstructive surgeries. When you’re suddenly in a hospital bed looking out at a world you once thought was familiar, the only place to turn is to professionals who care about you.

And that’s precisely what Donna did.

Nurse Now Patient

After discovering the initial lump, Donna had surgery at Mercy Medical Center to remove it.  At the time, the lump in her breast was thought to be benign. It was not. Once doctors got it under a microscope it was discovered instead to be invasive cancer.

“I went from no one could figure out what the lump in my breast was to ‘oh my God’ in a very short period,” Donna said.

It was Christmas Eve when the results of the biopsy came back and she was told the seemingly innocuous lump she’d found was anything but benign. “They had to coordinate a lot in a short time,” Donna said. “The surgeons and the surgery, and of course it was a holiday which made it even more challenging. But Mercy moved so quickly to align everything. It was impressive.” By January 2002 she’d had her first mastectomy, then a DIEP flap reconstruction followed by chemotherapy.

That first surgery and mastectomy were a beginning on many fronts.  For one, it was the start of a long relationship for Donna with Mercy’s Dr. Bernie Chang, who leads The Breast Reconstruction and Restoration Center at Mercy and also serves as Assistant Director of The Hoffberger Breast Center for the hospital.

“I had gone to Mercy in the first place because of the positive things I’d heard about their Breast Center,” Donna said. “But with Dr. Chang it was more than I could have hoped for. The first time I met him was the first time I felt at peace with having the initial mastectomy. He made me feel like I was going to look normal again. He even had a sense of humor about it. It put me at ease.”

And that’s where she pretty much stayed for the next ten years. Then, in 2011 Donna had an abnormal mammogram which showed carcinoma in situ, an early form of cancer, in her other breast.  She was given two options - radiation or mastectomy.  By this time she’d learned some things about herself. She chose a mastectomy.

The second mastectomy was performed by Dr. Gauri Bedi, of Mercy and the now-familiar Dr. Chang  did the reconstruction, only this time with breast implant. Later in 2011, Donna decided to have SGAP Breast Reconstruction instead, again performed by Dr. Chang.

“I decided that I wanted my own tissue,” Donna said. “I chose SGAP because it feels more natural.”

Another aspect of her experience with Mercy Medical Center Donna said felt natural has more to do with something she knows a little about. Nursing.

“I’ve been especially impressed with the whole nursing staff at Mercy’s Breast Center,” she said. “They helped me through the process, counseled me and gave me options. I was able to see right away that the nursing staff there knew a lot more than I did about this and they really cared about what was happening to me.”

“As a nurse, Mercy has always been my favorite hospital,” she added. “I understand a little more now why.”

Donna added that another impressive aspect of the hospital is the cohesion between different departments. “They share information so when you go to see one doctor they’ve already been updated,” she said. “You feel like you’re being taken care of thoroughly.”

Nursing A New Life

Still a Registered Nurse, Donna now uses her knowledge, professional and personal experience in her job as a utilization reviewer for a national health insurance firm.

Outside work what she’s learned from this long and circuitous journey, Donna said, is mainly gratitude.

“It hasn’t been a fun experience, but I’ve learned a lot about myself and about this disease,” Donna said. ”I feel extremely grateful for so many things, mainly that the chemo worked and that I feel good.  I’ve seen a lot of people who have had it a lot worse than me. I have scars, sure, but not as bad as some.”

Donna added that through her decade-long journey with breast cancer she’s gained many insights, including the answer to the question of who nurses the nurse.

“I’m a nurse and was even an oncology case manager for three years,” Donna said. “I’d taken care of and counseled a lot of cancer patients so at first I thought I knew everything I needed to know. But I didn’t. I turned myself over to the professionals who knew more than me.”

“For years I saw what patients had to go through and I counseled them and cared for them but I have a different perspective now,” she added. “This has made it more real. What I’ve learned is that you do what you have to do to survive and thrive. That’s what I’ve done, and that’s what I’ll keep on doing.”

The Hoffberger Breast Center at Mercy offers comprehensive breast care, thoughtfully designed for women undergoing the journey to overcome breast disease.