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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Every Step of the Way: A Nurse's Cancer Diary

Published February 8, 2012 9:14 AM by Guest Blogger

Nancy Cohen, BSN, RN, has graciously shared her personal journal, in which she writes about doing battle with cancer for the second time in her life. This is the first installment of a weekly blog that will enable readers to join her on the journey.

Entry 1: Here We Go Again 

October 11, 2011

It began like any other day. 

I reached for the shaving gel and began to slather it under my right axilla. I could have never anticipated the events to follow. What was this thing, this teeny, hard pea-sized mass my fingers kept rolling over and over again. 

Could this be scar tissue or perhaps a remnant from an old suture knot left over from bilateral mastectomies I’d undergone in May 1999? Or could it be something far more insidious, the unthinkable … cancer. 

 I don’t recall having felt this in the past. When did this pop up? I’d seen my medical oncologist exactly four weeks ago and he hadn’t felt anything following a thorough clinical exam.

“Drop everything you’re doing right now and feel this!” I shouted to my husband, Tim.

“I feel it,” he responded with concern in his eyes. “I knew it was cancer,” he’d admitted later on.

“I’m making an appointment with Dr. S.” Six days later I sat in her office.

“What seems to be concerning you?” I pointed out the spot and she immediately felt it with her very nimble, very experienced fingers. 

“This needs follow-up. I’m sending you for an ultrasound.” She obviously didn’t think it was nothing. Her intuition was telling her otherwise and I picked up on it right away.

The radiologist waved her magic wand around the tiny nodule. “This has none of the architectural aspects of a lymph node. It’s clearly a mass and with your family history, I’d get a tissue sample.” 

Enough said. I ran back to the surgeon’s office in hysterics with the radiologist’s preliminary readings in hand. Within the hour, the surgeon performed a fine needle biopsy and 24 hours later, we had an answer.

“It’s cancer, Nancy. I’m so sorry,” she stated calmly but firmly. But how, why?

No time for questions. She rattled off a list of tests I’d have to undergo in the following weeks in order to begin the staging process. I understood the process completely and I had a hunch why my body was under attack, again. 

It was the BRCA1 gene. I’d been through all of this before nearly 14 ½  years ago from a nearly two centimeter mass I discovered in my left breast but I never, ever imagined I would have to relive this. 

The nightmare was just beginning - again.


A job in a nursing oroainzatign that does not include hands on would be hard, but they exist.  Remember, if you got a position in a long term or even acute setting with the background as an LPN, I promise you that when they are short staffed, you WILL be called upon to do  the best for the patient  and work the floor. ( I know, I've been there)In order to avoid that, jobs to consider that would appreciate your knowledge of nursing and management could be:Insurance companies doing quality assuranceConsulting FirmsLegal FirmsAgencies needing Admission Coordinators or Billing AuditorsOr make up your own business using your skills it would be great, probably hard, but you could tailor it to what you love to do!Good Luck

Davinder Davinder, ELzeBijVdjiUyRe - WWQjDuKC, AbSLqyrzJcQdsBw January 15, 2013 1:18 PM

Thinking about you, and those who are close.%0d%0aLove you all Susan

susan March 26, 2012 8:18 PM

Thank you so much for sharing your story with the world.  Cancer is so heartbreaking.  I have personally never suffered with it in my body, but have been very broken thru the pain of others.  I commit to keep you, Tim, your son, and all of your extended family in my prayers.  

Your life AND your life experience is precious and of GREAT value.  Our lives are like a ripple affect into the lives of all of those that we touch.  May your ripples come back 10fold, like a tital wave of  love, encouragement and strength from all directions.  May the peace of the Lord be yours <3

colleen, teaching - ASL homeschool mom March 17, 2012 1:30 PM

Nancy; Thanks for sharing your story.  Stay strong.  You can get through this.  I am a lung cancer survivor. The toughest thing for a health care worker is to be on the receiving end.  We are so used to being the caregivers.  Let people take care of you now.  You'll give back when this is over.  Keeping you in my prayers and thoughts.

Joyce, RN March 9, 2012 10:37 AM
Doylestown PA

I am so sorry you are going thru this. It upsets me so much when I hear of yet another person battling cancer, especially breast cancer. Why is the question I ask? Our parents generation did not battle with this like our generations are now. One thing to remember. Keep your immune system strong thru vitamins and good nutrition full of fruits and vegetables. Incorporate vitamin D in your supplementation. Have your levels checked and go from there. There is alot of research about vitamin D and cancer... it is essential for prevention and helpful for those going thru treatment. I hope all goes well for you as you wander down this path again. You will be in my thoughts and prayers.


Doreen, maternity - RN March 4, 2012 2:47 PM

I am sorry you have to fight this battle again.  I am moved and inspired by your strength and courage.  

I will continue to pray for you and your family.

susan, education - teacher March 2, 2012 8:57 PM
cape coral FL

Thank you for sharing your cancer journey.  I am a survivor for over 3 years.  This is my 2nd bout with breast cancer. May God Bless you and continue to give you the strength to deal with this dx. again.

Rose March 2, 2012 1:36 PM

Thinking about you everyday Nancy! Stay strong!

Nicolas Zafiroglu, Orthopaedic Surgery - PA-C, Kaiser~Permanente March 1, 2012 4:45 PM
Redwood City CA

Thank You for sharing. I am a cancer survivor too and know the stress that you are under. Keep your chin up and SURVIVE, My prayers are with you and your family.

Patrick Farley, ER - RN, CCMC March 1, 2012 4:26 PM
Glen Mills PA

    Thanks for sharing and prayers for you and all those with this terrible disease.

pat, I Cila - RN, Envision February 28, 2012 10:00 AM
Chicago IL

Nancy,thank you for shareing your story, you will be in our thoughts and prayers!

From: Chicago,Il.

Jeanmarie , gyne/onc - RNC, NMH February 27, 2012 1:46 PM
Chicago IL

I am 34 years old. I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this last October after thinking I was having morning sickness....all day long. After losing my 4th pregnancy and a life saving 12 hour long surgery I am a survivor. I will have a PET scan next month and every 6 months for a while to watch for a return. I am terrified for it to return. My prayers are with you.

Donna Bowen, ER - RN, CCMC February 27, 2012 9:11 AM
Clovis CA

Patti, please get to a doctor right away-calcium does not build up in the armpit!

Gail, OB/GYN - RN February 27, 2012 4:53 AM
Santa Ana CA

I have a pea size lump in my left axilla....I was told it was calcium.  Now I am beginning to wonder......

Patti Schields February 25, 2012 5:24 PM

There are cures for cancer.  Go to  

Hope they can help you.

Anne February 25, 2012 11:17 AM

I never knew this illness could be so devastating and life changing, my mother who is 80yrs old was diagnosed last December this brought me closer to God than anything else, she wasn't supposed to live past December but with God all things are possible. Keep your faith up and I will remeber you in my parayers.


gloria, RN February 21, 2012 10:34 PM
Washington DC

Thanks for sharing you will be in my prayers.

Lisa, Pedi onc - RN February 21, 2012 5:48 PM
Charlotte NC

Thank you for sharing, I will keep you in my prayers!

Joan February 20, 2012 2:09 PM
New Orleans LA

thanks for sharing. I am going thru my first experience with cancer. I appreciate your insights.%0d%0aML

michele lunde, RN BSN MSN February 19, 2012 6:50 AM

My cancer is different but I am going through a similar experience. I am sorry you have to go through this again also.  I have a wonderful support system through my church.  They are strong prayer warriors.  I use prayer to give my fear and anxiety to God.  For me it works.  I go to chemo every other week and on the off week I try to function as normal as I can.  I hope you have a strong support system and a strong relationship with God.  I will add you to my prayer list.

Jeanne, retired - BSN, RN February 16, 2012 5:55 PM
Cleveland OH

Thanks for sharing!

Michelle February 16, 2012 2:09 PM
St. Louis MO

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