I KNEW something was wrong. After all, I am a nurse. I felt it, and saw it. Within seconds, my life changed. It was a kick in the gut, and I felt my veins fill with ice water. Mammograms, ultrasounds, CORE biopsies, cancer staging, Oncotyping, and sentinel Nodes….this was my new vocabulary. What I wouldn’t do for someone asking me about the weather. Breast Cancer? Shock, disbelief, fear, chaos, and confusion all kicked in, along with the unspoken, yet powerful side effect of grief.
The ever-dreaded word “SURVIVOR” was going to be incorporated not only into my vocabulary, but into my life. After experiencing all Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, and becoming swiftly religious and prolifically literary within three weeks, I understood that “Survivor” is not exclusive, because cancer is not exclusive. What, in my mind, was reserved for someone else became my fate. However, knowing and learning what the word “survivor” really means helped me, and can benefit everyone. I learned what I already knew: I must fight. I am a woman, wife, mother, and school nurse. Cancer isn’t always that horrible, but there’s much to be done, and priorities need to be set. I can do this. I am happy and smart, and I will survive.
And I did. It was not easy, but it was easier than I first thought. Yes, there were a lot of worries – financial strains, shifting roles, physical challenges, fears of death, and oh yeah, my job as School Nurse. I had to make a plan. If I could work, I would. And work I did, with only a few days off after the end of radiation to rest and wrap holiday presents.
People often speak of “best laid plans”, but I found out you have to take it day to day. Priority number one was ME, maybe for the first time in my life. Many efforts, changes and interventions were done to succeed in this challenge, and it worked! Today I am absolutely fine. With the support of my family, friends and co-workers, I now do not think about it every single day. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some helpful hints, from a very lucky school nurse:
- Talk about it - to others or to yourself via a journal.
- Instill healthy activities in your school, for students, staff, and parents!
- Learn from all of this, and change others’ lives for the better.
- Celebrate Breast Cancer (or the illness you’re facing) Survival! Plan school activities for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Initiate a “Think Pink” day at your School. Sell pink ribbons. Join the Susan G. Komen “Race for the Cure” or other activity to raise breast cancer awareness.
Nurse Pam Barnes
About the author
Nurse Pam Barnes, RN, CSN-NJ, M.Ed. is the school nurse at The Children’s Institute in New Jersey. Barnes has served as a school nurse for 18 years, and is one year removed from her breast cancer diagnosis.