Cancer survivor

Celebrating the Fighters: Recognizing Cancer Survivor Month 

During the month of June, we’re honoring the nearly 17 million Americans who have bravely and successfully battled cancer. It is an opportunity for the millions of survivors to celebrate their milestones and recognize those who have supported them along the way. In recognition of Cancer Survivor Month, we’re highlighting the vital role nurses play in patient care and emotional support.  

Recently, hundreds of nurses who’ve been on “both sides of the bedrail” when it comes to cancer care and cancer treatment shared their stories, their advice, and words of hope for others going through the same thing.  

Today, we’d like to share their stories with you. 

Learn more about Cancer Survivor Month 

Be the patient’s ears 

“I would tell the nurse taking care of that patient in the office or hospital to be the patient’s ears. For the nurse, I would say to take notes of what the doctor says and talk to the patient to make sure they heard everything correctly. A lot of time I found that after the sentence ‘we found cancer or you have cancer,’ they don’t hear much after that.” 

Lori H., Ohio Nurse 

Listen to your patients 

“I have had many loved ones diagnosed with cancer. Some are treatable; some are not. It depends on the stage, type, and where it’s located. The best advice I can give other nurses is to listen to your patients. Let them vent about their diagnosis. Let them know you’ll be there for them with whatever they need.  

The doctor will give them the course of treatment. Make sure the patient understands the diagnosis. Answer any questions they have to the best of your ability. Be honest with them. Ask them first what the doctor has told them and please make sure they understand.  

When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, the doctor didn’t explain to her that it was terminal. I’m a nurse and knew what he meant. I was taking mom to the vehicle and my sister asked the doctor approximately how much time she had to live. He gave her four months. She only lived for three and a half months. We didn’t tell her what the prognosis was, because she’d already voiced her fears about dying. We put her in hospice, and I was her nurse.  

My advice? Be there for the family, too. They’re scared as well. Let the patient and the family know that they can call you if needed. Keep the patient comfortable and pain free. I hope this helps.” 

Kimberley B., Arkansas Nurse 

Keep a log to record your questions 

“I have gone through this experience myself. Even as a nurse, things can happen suddenly, followed by a huge amount of information you are given to process. A diagnosis of cancer can be quite stunning and overwhelming. Keep a log or diary, writing down any questions or symptoms you are aware of, or any new information you are receiving. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are many support organizations and groups out there. Your case manager or nurse should be able to help set you up with them.” 

Denice D., Arkansas Nurse 

Take one day at a time 

“As a cancer survivor myself, there are many lessons I learned in my journey. The advice I would give to someone just diagnosed with cancer is:  

  1. Get rid of ALL negativity and stress. The diagnosis is stressful enough by itself. Being in a negative environment will drain you of the energy you need to make it through treatment. 
  1. Find out what services are available to you. It may be a cancer support group or a health, nutrition, and stress reduction classes. 
  1. Find positive affirmations that speak to you personally. Say them to yourself as often as you need.  
  1. If you pray or journal, then do so.  
  1. Take one day at a time. 
  1. DON’T GIVE UP!” 

Lynette N., Texas Nurse 

“I found myself on the other side of the bedrail” 

“I am a nurse (retired but maintain ‘active retired’ status). Very shortly before my retirement six years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a lumpectomy a few days after my last day of work (which was two days before Thanksgiving).  

Retirement alone after 40+ years of nursing is at first bewildering, albeit a welcome and normal stage of life. The sudden upheaval into a patient role was shocking. Prior to that time, I’d been very healthy and active, with a very ‘boring’ medical history.  Suddenly, my life was upended when I found myself on the ‘other side of the bedrail.’   

Learning all I could about my situation was extremely helpful to me as a nurse. Maintaining my ‘nurse-ness’ gave me emotional strength to venture into my new role as a patient and adjust to the label of ‘cancer patient.’  

I was blessed with an early diagnosis of a small tumor which was amenable to a short course of radiation following the lumpectomy. Other than feeling out of my usual environment for a while, I’ve had a good experience as a cancer patient.  

My advice to newly diagnosed cancer patients: 

  • Ask questions. 
  • Learn what are credible resources which are available to you and use them. 
  • Take note of caregivers involved in your situation who seem more patient-oriented and try to get them on your care team when possible. 
  • Be easy on yourself. 
  • Accept that you’ve been thrown into a strange new world but remember that there are people in it who will guide you along. 
  • Always remember to do what you can to maintain your usual good healthy habits.” 

Sue R., Washington Nurse 

A gift that will help them through the dark days 

“Listen to your patient and their family members. Allowing them to talk and process what they are going through is a gift that will help them with THAT day and heal them when a life ends on this earth.” 

Ernie P., Florida Nurse 

Don’t compare yourself to other patients 

“Every cancer patient has a unique journey.  Don’t compare yourself to other patients with the same cancer diagnosis. Your journey is your own. Don’t over-research or talk to too many people. It’ll only cause more stress. People will naturally want to share stories. Stick to the facts, your facts. Never give up on hope. Keep your loved ones close.” 

Sabina G., California Nurse 

Be an advocate for yourself 

“I am a nurse and a cancer survivor. Doctors bombarded me with different methods of treatments, alternative as well as medical. At the time, I had 10-year-old twin boys that I needed to consider in my fight for life! There are many options out there for treatment of cancer. Choose the path that feels right for you and your philosophy with life and health. 

Here are some of the things I learned: 

  • Being an advocate for yourself and setting boundaries was very beneficial in my fight. 
  • Having a positive attitude was the next important aspect. This helped me get up every day and work through surgery and treatments. 
  • Join a support group. This is very beneficial in keeping connected with those that are getting healthy again, alongside you. 
  • Enjoy your oncology team. They are there to help you in every way!” 

Rebekah L., Texas Nurse 

Your journey is your story 

“I have had cancer myself and recently my adult son was diagnosed with cancer. As a mom, no matter how old your child is at the time of the news, it tugs at the core of your heart.  

All grief emotions are felt. It’s a life-changing event. Be honest with loved ones. Tell others when you are ready and have had some time to absorb all the overwhelming information. Have a good support system and reach out to spiritual support. When you are first diagnosed, time and days may seem like a blur. Every cancer journey is different. Your journey is your story. Share your journey/story at your comfort level.” 

Mary S., Iowa Nurse 

Lean into others 

“Take a deep breath. Know that while this is a setback, an unexpected turn, and an interruption, there is always hope. Then allow yourself to lean into others and let them help you.” 

Linda G., Kentucky Nurse Practitioner