A Healthcare Hero’s Journey in Keeping Up with Cancer Care

Adam Walker (00:00):
Support for the Real Pink podcast comes from Pfizer’s Get It Done initiative. Cancer screenings and follow-up appointments had decreased significantly due to COVID-19, which is why Pfizer created Get It Done, which aims to empower cancer survivors to speak with their doctors and keep their cancer screenings and follow-up appointments by providing resources to help start conversations and prepare for their next visit. Learn more at getcancerscreened.com.

Adam Walker (00:30):
From Susan G Komen. This is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctors’ office to your living room.

Adam Walker (00:46):
Hi everyone. We’re here today with an incredibly inspiring healthcare hero, Kanesha. Kanesha has been an oncology nurse for 18 years. Her personal experience with breast cancer and background in oncology has given her a newfound path to helping others find the strength to take the next step with their treatment. Kanesha knows the importance of cancer screenings, even during the events of a global pandemic, and is here to talk about her COVID-19 experience. Like so many in the healthcare field, Kanesha continued to work every day, even though she was still recovering from her cancer treatment and put her own life on the line to help others. Kanesha, welcome to the show.

Kanesha (01:28):
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Adam Walker (01:31):
I’m really excited to talk to you and hear about your experience, both as an oncology nurse, in dealing with cancer and dealing with COVID-19 like it’s; this is a fascinating story. And so, just to dive in, tell us about your breast cancer story and how being an oncology nurse impacted your experience?

Kanesha (01:51):
For sure. So, I, like you mentioned at the top, I’ve been, um, at my job or at this hospital at least for about 18, 19 years.

Adam Walker (2:03):
That’s fantastic.

Kanesha (2:04):
I can’t believe it’s been that long. I must’ve been 12 when I started, but I’ve been here a really long time, and I’ve always been in oncology here and, you know, have a mass of great work family and working relationships with colleagues, you know, throughout oncology and was just kind of chuckle along living my life. I turned 40 and went to visit my best friend in Australia and, you know, had a great trip there and came back and that my birthdays at the end of the year, so January-ish, I noticed I had an interesting rash on my breast, and I was like, hmm. [Okay (Adam)]

Kanesha (2:44):
But mostly, I was just going to troubleshoot it, you know, with my nurse mind at home, we’ll try some things, see what happens and it, it got a little better, but it never really went away. And so I reached out, you know, and talking to my good friends, also my colleagues, but my dear friends and say, “Hey, you know, this might be TMI, but I got this weird rash. It won’t go away.” And he essentially was like, well, you know, you’re off 40, so it’s probably good time to go get it checked out. And I was like, yeah, you’re right. So I made an appointment with my general practitioner, and she said the same thing, let’s get a mammogram and just rule, you know, whatever this is, we’ll rule it out. And I was like, okay, cool [Yeah, yeah (Adam)]. And so, you know, scheduled my appointments, made my mammogram, and got back from the mammogram and got a call a little bit after that. Like, we need some more views, and maybe we’ll do a biopsy.

Kanesha (03:48):
And I said, okay, but I’m in radiation oncology and work with breast patients, breast cancer patients all the time, and that’s not an uncommon thing. You know, you need [Yeah (Adam)] a baseline [Right (Adam)]; you need something to compare it to, so I wasn’t terribly worried. By the time we got to the second biopsy, then I was concerned [Yeah (Adam)]. And so right around, um, Memorial Day of 2017 is when I got my diagnosis, the radiologist called and he was like, you know, I’m really sorry to tell you, but we found breast cancer. And so, give either one of these surgeons a call, but I already knew who I was calling because [Of course (Adam)] we had worked together for so many years [Yeah, yeah (Adam)]. So that kind of started the whole ball rolling.

Adam Walker (04:37):
Wow. And that’s gotta be a surreal experience too, working in oncology for so many years and then, and then getting that news yourself. And I guess we’ll get to that but, but first I’d like to talk about your support system. I heard you had a pretty special support system at work. Tell us about how your friends helped you through your journey.

Kanesha (04:58):
So they were amazing. I mean, at this point, they were already dear, dear close friends, but now they’re like my bonus sisters. Like we have been through all the things together, and I truly could not have done it without them. Um, they were very instrumental and kind of just doing the little things I needed done, but what was helpful for me to kind of galvanize that support. And it’s something that I’m now happy that I’ve been telling patients to do because now I see it does work [Yeah, yeah (Adam)]. I always advise my patients to, if they have this overwhelming amount of support, to be specific in the help that you need [Okay (Adam)], because people may want to cook for you, but maybe you hate their cooking. That’s not helpful [That’s right, that’s right (Adam)], you know?

Kanesha (05:53):
So I’ve always kind of been an advocate for that. And so within, my own experience that was, I knew I needed to do that cause they all wanted, you know, to know how they can help and definitely, you know, ask time and time again, how can I help? And I said, “you know what? I know how you can help. I’m going to organize it because now, you know, I have a little time on my hands,” and I made a Google spreadsheet and listed all of my dates for chemo and what I needed for each appointment. So I was pretty specific. I knew I would have a ride to work because my parents, we live really close to each other. So, my parents would drop me off at work. I was still working through most of chemo. Um, and so they would drop me off at work.

Kanesha (06:38):
I would work a half-day. And so, I needed my friends to sit with me during chemo; if they were so inclined to bring something to watch or a fun game to play, I was on board, but I would definitely need a ride home. Um, and I just gave them the blocks of time. So here are my dates; here is how much of your time that I’m going to need and this is what I need you to do while you’re there. And I sent it to the group, and I was like, all of you all are owners of this document, so just filling in what looks good to you. And one of you will tell me who’s day is, but I’m done figuring it out. And they were great.

Adam Walker (07:23):
I love that. You know, I’ve interviewed a lot of people, and you’re the first one that’s ever said the words, Google spreadsheet in relation to your support network. But I love that. Like that’s, so it’s just so simple. It’s like, I need, here’s the date, here’s what I need. Here are the times; sign up if you are going to do it. Just let me know.

Kanesha (07:42):
Uh, I’m a big fan of a very communicative message [Yeah (Adam)]. Mostly so you don’t ask me any more questions, [That is the key (Adam)] and so I knew that they were ready to help and were willing. And I knew if I gave them all the details, I trust them explicitly, and they would take care of it, and I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. So, when my mom was like, well, how are you getting home from chemo? I was like, I don’t know. Let me check the Google doc. We’ll see who’s taking me home.

Adam Walker (08:13):
That’s fantastic. I love that. That’s so great. So great. Well, so then let’s, let’s talk a little bit about the pandemic. So as a breast cancer survivor, I’m sure you had concerns about your own health during last year’s lockdown. And so, can you tell us why you felt it was essential to continue to go to work even during the height of the pandemic?

Kanesha (08:34):
Yes. And so, in my, um, hospital setting, you know, like many others, things were really crazy and very unknown. You know, we didn’t know how things happened during the pandemic that I never imagined could happen. For instance, I left bedside nursing…for reasons, but during the pandemic, we needed such so many more people and hands on the floor that the hospital actually decided to do more about the labor pool situation. And they were pulling nurses from outpatient areas because, I mean, if you remember, a lot of the outpatient settings just shut down, we were the, one of the few clinics that remained open, um because of the patients that we care for. But yet, and still, our census was a little down, and the hospital was pulling nurses to the bedside to help out. And that was really concerning because I haven’t done it in so long.

Kanesha (09:35):
Um, there was, at least for me, a slight concern if I kind of fell into a category, having my immune system compromised and maybe I shouldn’t be on the COVID unit. Um, so things like that were very concerning, and I just wasn’t sure, you know, day to day you just get it, you know, ready to read the new email and see what the new directive is that day. So it was, it was challenging for sure. But along with that, our patient load from my particular, small niche of patients within the department, we were the busiest that we’ve ever been in 10 years. And so, while there was a concern, maybe I will be pulled. I also knew I had so many patients that had to have their treatment done within a certain timeframe that I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on these other units, if necessary, because I had my own patients to care for here.

Adam Walker (10:29):
Yeah, Wow. And so, I’d like to talk just a little bit about what it was like to go to work during the lockdown and how that affected you emotionally. Like what, give us that story, paint that picture for us.

Kanesha (10:43):
It was…definitely harrowing. Um, but, but odd on a few levels. So, everyone’s at home, everyone, except the like, I mean, you know, we call it a lot of people essential now, but it was really the bare bones of the essential people that were leaving the house. And so, my commute became amazing suddenly there is no one on the road to get in the way. So that was interesting. Um, I don’t know about you where you are, but the the nature, the sounds of nature, just really intensified. Like there were far more birds. I suddenly had ducks flying down the street, just so much. Like they were like, oh, the humans are gone. We can all come out and hang out. So that was wild. Um, but outside of like coming to the hospital, caring for people and being in the setting that was really, most people feared being at a hospital setting was really scary.

Kanesha (11:43):
Cause you, you don’t know all the implications of what’s happening. And then to add to that, as I mentioned my, my family lives on the first floor of our building. So, they live on the first floor. I live on the second floor, and my parents are elderly, and I had a very deep fear of bringing something home to them. And so that was a real concern. So, I would, you know, I had kind of my work uniform, cause at that point, we were just kind of wearing scrubs every day. And so, I would wear the same thing to work every day, and then I’d come home, and thankfully it’s a family-owned building, so I can undress in the hallway, take everything right to the wash, wash it, hope I did all those things, shower immediately. Like just anything, I could do to at least have some semblance of protecting my parents for sure.

Adam Walker (12:33):
Right. Yeah. Yeah. That makes, and then, I mean, obviously, you’re wearing a mask the whole time, so I assume you had to get used to that. And did you have any trouble finding masks or anything like that?

Kanesha (12:42):
So, in the beginning, we had a pretty good supply, but it was I think at the onset, we would definitely encourage to reuse mask where it was safe to do so. So obviously, you know, if it was soiled or, or ripped or whatever, then you get a new one. Um, so that was hard. The N95 masks became hot commodities for sure. And we had to have a lot of conversations around when it’s appropriate to have them on when you don’t necessarily, per the CDC guidelines, need to have them on. So, I became very versed in that literature because we do a lot of procedures that may call for N95s but may not. So being able to kind of explain to staff why they do or don’t need them and then really explain to patients that we’re taking all the precautions to keep them as safe as possible was, was really top priority.

Adam Walker (13:46):
Yeah, wow. Well, that is, I appreciate you sharing that. Uh, and, and just seeing that from your eyes and from your perspective is really important for us. So, so last question. Uh, what would you tell breast cancer survivors listening now who are still nervous about going to the doctors’ office and what steps have offices taken to help patients be seen safely?

Kanesha (14:10):
Sure. So definitely within our institution, we have instituted measures around doing telemedicine where appropriate. So, you know, perhaps there’s a follow-up visit. We can do like a video call or just a phone call. So that’s been helpful, I think, very comforting for patients to know that they can still kind of have a semblance of normalcy and continuing those appointments, but within the hospital, I mean, I know in the beginning and definitely even, maybe for some people still now the hospital feels like a very scary place, but everyone on campus has a mask on, you know, everyone has taken the precautions, there’s measures, checking temperatures and hand washing and everyone it’s front of mind for all of the staff, um, and our location here. So, I feel very confident and bringing patients down and while it definitely, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, but getting your cancer care is just so, so important. We saw, you know, such a dramatic dip and people getting their mammograms and normal screening and follow-up appointments at the beginning of the pandemic that I would really, really encourage people to come back and really get their care and check in with their physicians and check in with your particular physician. Cause maybe they can assure you and tell you the measures that they’re taking to make sure that you’re safe there.

Adam Walker (15:44):
That’s right. That’s right. I think doctors’ offices are most likely taking precautions to make sure that everyone’s safe. So, uh, Kanesha, thank you. You know, thank you for the time that you spend helping patients. Thank you for working through a pandemic, and just thank you for the good work that you’re doing. And thank you for your time on the show today.

Kanesha (16:07):
Thank you so much. It was lovely to be here. I really appreciate you guys extending the offer, and I’m, I’m, I just want to be able, if I share my story and one person goes, get a mammogram, it was, it was worth every minute.

Adam Walker (16:20):
I completely agree. I completely agree. Thanks to Pfizer’s Get It Done initiative for supporting the Real Pink podcast. If you, or a loved one, have delayed cancer screenings or follow-up appointments due to COVID-19. It’s time to talk to your doctor, learn more and find resources at getcancerscreened.com. That’s get cancer screened dot com. Cancer screening. Get It Done.

Adam Walker (16:53):
Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen; for more episodes, visit Real Pink.com and.org. For more on breast cancer, visit komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam; you c