My NP Story: A New Cancer Diagnosis

Posted on: November 10, 2015

We had NPs across the country submit a story from their professional experience that celebrates their career. Here is one of the winning stories:

At the beginning of my career as a women’s health nurse practitioner, I worked in a busy clinic. Often, my patient population was young and healthy, and the visits were routine. But as I became one of the senior members of the team with specialty training in abnormalities of the reproductive tract,

I had a special encounter that has stayed with me for years.

At the time, I was working in a multi-specialty organization in the women’s health department. I had previous training using a colposcopy and was about to see a patient for an evaluation of an abnormal pap smear.

The patient was nervous. I explained the procedure, and I assured her we would have results in a few days and would then sort out what to do. After prepping the cervix and looking through the colposcope, I realized I was viewing an extensive cervical cancer. I sampled some tissue, reassured the patient, and moved on with my day. The visit stayed with me throughout the day.

I explained to the nurse who assisted me that I was quite sure we would get a diagnosis of cervical cancer. When you apply simple acetic acid (or vinegar solution) to a cervix and look through a colposcope, you will begin to see changes that are quite significant and consistent with potential cervical cancer.  We call this mosaic or crushed glass appearance, and this was what I was staring at under high magnification. And yes, that is what the diagnosis was.

I had the patient come to the office where I explained what we found and what the next best steps were.  She then was referred to a gynecologic oncologist, and we lost touch. My understanding was that she was referred to surgery and underwent further treatment with chemotherapy. Several years later, I met this patient again as she returned to the department for a routine wellness checkup. She had come with her grown daughter for support. 

When she recognized me, she announced to the daughter, “This is the woman who saved my life”.

Humbly, I thanked her for her confidence in me, but I also reminded her that her proactive approach to her care with routine pap smears led her to an early diagnosis and treatment. I may have been part of the solution, but I could not take all the credit for this amazing turnaround and perfect outcome. 

In all the years since that time, I have never forgotten this patient or her diagnosis. This experience was so profound to me that it eventually led to me specializing in oncology care particularly in women’s health. While the patient may have thanked me all those years ago for her health outcome, it is I who must look back and thank her for the career change that led me to a rewarding pathway in which I still work. An NP will have many patient experiences in her or his career, but none as profound as assisting a patient from cancer to wellness.

Do you have a special experience that made you proud of your profession? Share this badge to let all your Facebook friends know you are Proud To Be An NP‬!

About Cathy Friedlander Cole, NP-BC, MPH, CHES, CN-BP

A native of New York, Cathy completed her undergraduate degree in Biology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Nurse Practitioner training in Women’s Health from Harbor-UCLA and her Master’s degree from CSU, Northridge in Community Health Education. Cathy currently works at the Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks California as a nurse navigator and is involved in program development for the hospital’s NAPBC- accredited breast program. Cathy is a member of the California Association of Nurse Practitioners, the Academy of Oncology Nurse Navigators and the National Consortium of Breast Centers. She serves on the Boards of the American Cancer Society of the Coastal Region, the Advisory Board of the Conejo Free Clinic and the National Consortium of Breast Centers where she previously chaired the Clinical Breast Examination Committee. She has been honored by the NCoBC with other colleagues in receiving the 2012 Impact Award for the creation of educational videos in breast health and self-examination techniques for men and women. Cathy has been honored with the Frist Humanitarian Award from the HCA Corporation and the Lane Adams Quality of Life Award from the American Cancer Society. She has authored a number of publications and delivered oral presentations around the country with regard to breast cancer, survivorship issues and breast center development.

More Content Like This