Oncology nurse: How my family's cancer journey changed me

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By Karen Mae Perdon

My mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, just four years after she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.


This year her breast cancer returned. When I heard the news, I kept thinking, why her? Why is this happening again to the person least deserving of this? I thought we had said goodbye to cancer, but I guess God had other plans.


Yet, despite being a bit shocked, I was surprisingly calm about the news. I knew that my job as a nurse here at MD Anderson was not just to help my patients, but also to help my family.


An inspiring first experience with MD Anderson

I haven't always been a nurse at MD Anderson. In fact, it was my sister's breast cancer diagnosis that led me to MD Anderson, first as a caregiver and now as a nurse.

My journey to MD Anderson started in March 2012, when my oldest sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. A registered nurse in South Texas, she asked me for my opinion about where she should undergo breast cancer treatment. Without hesitation, I told her to go to MD Anderson.

I didn't work here at that time, but I worked in the Texas Medical Center and knew of the great advancements in cancer treatment that were taking place here. I had great confidence that MD Anderson would ensure she got the best treatment.

She took my advice and received breast cancer treatment at MD Anderson. I visited her at the hospital after her mastectomy and reconstructive surgery and accompanied her to her follow-up visits. I was impressed with the staff and the facility. Everyone was caring and genuine.


They all seemed to love what they were doing, and that amazed me so much that I decided I wanted to work at MD Anderson. I applied and was accepted for a research nurse position in Melanoma Medical Oncology.


Changing my mindset

I had been working here for almost a year when my mom was diagnosed with her breast cancer recurrence. Now that I was a nurse at MD Anderson and have seen the work we do, I was confident that my mom would beat this disease.


I didn't care for my mom directly, of course, but I knew from my sister's experience and working here that my mom would get the best care for this disease. From her official diagnosis to after her mastectomy and reconstruction surgery, she was well taken care of.


I realized that I was placed here at MD Anderson for a greater purpose. As a nurse, I do my best every day to provide exceptional care for my patients. I strive to be a true advocate for them because I now have a better understanding of what they are going through. And it's not just the patients. I can care for their family members and loved ones, too.

I'm better at placing myself in their shoes and understanding how they're feeling. I don't just treat them medically. I give them emotional support, by giving them more information and reassuring them. I know how it feels to wonder if your loved one will make it through. Because I've been there.

I've always tried my best as a nurse but your mindset really changes when your family member is the patient.

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