Nurse Breast Cancer Survivor Becomes Advocate for the Cause

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By Megan M. Krischke, contributor 

October 18, 2012 - Along with all of nature’s beautiful fall colors on display this October, most of us have been seeing a lot of pink around us, as well.  The reason, of course, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which has everyone from professional athletes to Girl Scouts sporting the lively color. 

It’s all for a good cause--to bring more attention and funding to a disease that is expected to affect 1 out of every 8 women in the United States. Although survival rates have improved over the years, breast cancer is still the leading cause a death among U.S. women who are 40-50 years old. 

Breast Cancer Awareness Month offers nurses an excellent opportunity to increase their knowledge about the disease and to discuss the importance of self-exams and recommended mammogram screenings with their patients. In addition, there are a myriad of special events across the country in which nurses can participate with co-workers, patients and their families.

One nurse's personal cancer story 

Jenine Talantis, RN, a travel nurse specializing in ophthalmology who works for American Mobile Healthcare, an AMN Healthcare company, was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2010 at the age of 58.  She had gone in for a routine mammogram just three months earlier and had a clear reading; however she found the lump, directly under her nipple, during a self-exam.

Nurse Breast Cancer Survivor
Travel nurse and breast cancer survivor Jenine Talantis, RN, took part in Duke University Medical Center's own Pink Glove Dance video, highlighting breast cancer awareness. Photo credit: EAPhotography.

“Plan A was that I would have a lumpectomy followed by radiation, but then the oncologist discovered that in addition to the tumor I had cancer in situ--which isn’t yet cancer, but has a 50 percent chance of becoming cancer--in both breasts,” she explained. “Some women are very cavalier about saying if they found out they had breast cancer they would immediately have both breasts removed.  But it isn’t that easy when you are really faced with the decision.”

Talantis did go forward with a bilateral mastectomy, followed by reconstructive surgery. “There is life after having your breasts removed,” she reports. However, she points out that, “There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not aware of having lost my breasts because sensation in them never returns.”

Despite her own setbacks, the most difficult part of Talantis’s breast cancer story was losing her best friend to the disease just 16 months after diagnosis.

“She was just 45 years old and had a nine-year-old. She went through hell fighting to stay alive for her little boy,” she said.

From patient to advocate 

As a breast cancer survivor, Talantis has taken on new challenges and is currently working her first travel nursing contract at Duke University Medical Center where she just accepted a one-year contract extension.

This year, along with her Duke co-workers, Talantis participated in the second annual Pink Glove Dance Video Competition for breast cancer awareness sponsored by Medline. For this nationwide contest, health care workers choreograph, videotape and submit a dance for online viewers to vote on. The top three winners receive donations to the breast cancer charity of their choice. Voting for this year’s competition began on October 12 and ends on November 2.

“I think it is important for nurses to participate in breast cancer awareness events because at some point in their career, no matter what their specialty, they will run into someone who has breast cancer. The more you know, the more you are able to empathize,” Talantis remarked.

Opportunities for you to get involved 

Jo Bottorff, women’s wellness connection community coordinator for the Great West Division of the American Cancer Society, thinks nurse participation in breast cancer awareness events is important because the general public has such a deep respect for nurses and turns to them for answers.

“Many nurses help educate women about the importance of breast cancer screenings through their jobs, either working directly with patients, manning an exhibit at a health fair, answering questions by phone, etc.,” commented Bottorff.

“The American Cancer Society has Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walks throughout the nation and nurses can form a team for this event, encouraging patients to join also,” she continued. “As a 12-year breast cancer survivor, I became involved with this walk and it was my way of ‘giving back' and helping in the fight against this disease.”

One of the best-known breast cancer awareness events is the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure series. These 5K races and fitness walks are held across the country.  In 2011, over 1.6 million people participated in the series. Other awareness events range from three-day walks to beer and wine tastings to motorcycle rides to silent auctions. 

Bottorff encourages all nurses to find out about free breast cancer screenings offered in their community for uninsured and underinsured women. The CDC's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) provides access to breast and cervical cancer screening services to underserved women in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories, and 12 Native American tribes.



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