Women's Health

A True Calling: Two-Time Cancer Survivor Sets Her Sights on Nursing

A True Calling: Two-Time Cancer Survivor Sets Her Sights on Nursing

Although she has only been a nurse for a short time, Michelle McGovern’s life experience with cancer have given her a unique backbone for bedside care.  

There were only two things Michelle McGovern needed to do—just two little things.

The first was she write a book to let her son and daughter know exactly who she was before cancer and how cancer pushed her to strive even harder to become the woman she is today. She never wanted them to ever doubt or ever forget.

The second check mark on her list was to become a nurse.

In 2011, Michelle McGovern was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37. She was a wife to Matt McGovern and a stay-at-home mom to Tyler and Kailyn. The diagnosis of breast cancer wasn’t her first ride in the cancer rodeo. At the age of 11, McGovern was diagnosed with leukemia. Years later she still remembers the off-putting smells associated with her hospital stay.

“I had two years of aggressive chemotherapy and while the experience sparked my curiosity about the medical profession, it also made me shy away from this career path,” said McGovern, who grew up in New Jersey. Both of her parents were graduates of Indiana University so when it was time to pursue college, she packed her bags and headed to Bloomington where she majored in criminal justice and psychology and met her future husband, Matt. She went on to get a masters degree in criminal justice, all the while toying with the idea of a degree in medicine – nursing, pre-med, or radiology.

“I was a teaching assistant through college and my plan was to get my doctorate and teach at the college level. Instead, I got married, got a job in the IT (information technology) field and then became a stay-at-home mom.”
But just as her kids were getting older and more independent, McGovern began to think about what she really wanted to do in life.

The urge to make a difference

“In my past jobs I didn’t feel like I was making a difference. I wanted a more meaningful career. There were many times over the years I would go to orientation sessions about nursing but I always felt there was never enough time or enough money to go back to school,” said Michelle.

That was until she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And then, everything changed.

“I didn’t see it coming. I was in a state of shock. On the outside I seemed fine but on the inside I was so anxious. Here I was 37 and this was my second cancer.” She completed a treatment plan that included a bilateral mastectomy, lymph node dissection and radiation and continues on a ovarian suppression drug that blocks the actions of estrogen in her body.

“Through all treatment you power through because what are the alternatives? And I did a lot of soul searching.” The soul searching resulted in writing and the writing resulted in a self-published book: I Didn’t See This Coming: Breast Cancer at Age 37. McGovern describes the book as documentation of some very raw feelings – feelings she wanted to share with her children, Tyler and Kailyn, to show them that tough times can make you a better person.

Her experiences provided the motivation to excel

Then came the plan – the idea that she could pursue her dream career, an occupation that would help others. “After my breast cancer treatment ended, I felt deep sorrow when I thought about how precious and short life can be and that I could have missed fulfilling one of my life’s greatest purposes, becoming a nurse,” said Michelle. So she signed up for nursing classes. She didn’t just want to get by; she wanted to be the best nurse she could be. She completed her classes with straight As and graduated with distinction in 2016 from Indiana Health University and now works at the Indiana University Health Simon Center.

“The connection I feel with my patients is indescribable and allows me to care for and understand them from a unique perspective,” said McGovern, who is an oncology certified nurse. She was recently recognized with a Daisy Award for excellence in nursing. In her nomination one patient wrote: “Michelle went out of her way and beyond for me. She made sure I was out of pain and there was a smile on her face every time she entered the room to help me. I was told that I was going to die and given only two weeks to live. Michelle spent as much of the day with me as she could and by the end of the day she had lifted my spirits and had me smiling. She is an excellent nurse. Thank you Michelle.”

McGovern dedicates her time, at work and outside of work, to her patients. Michelle says she has learned from experience. “I truly believe I’m meant to be a nurse. I’ve been in their shoes. Every day I drive home I’m in awe of my patients and how they inspire me. I feel thankful I’m here,” said McGovern. “It could just as easily be me in that bed. I understand their triumphs and disappointments, their hopes and fears, their silence and their anger on a deep level. I am humbled to understand so much of what they go through.”

Michelle is also the chair and a team member for the Dragon Boat Racing Team, Indy SurviveOars. She is a volunteer with the Megan S. Ott Foundation providing immediate assistance to local recipients fighting breast cancer and The Young Survival Coalition. Michelle serves as a camp nurse for Camp Kesem, a week-long, free camp for children who have a parent who has/had cancer. She is also an ambassador for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

“Having cancer can definitely leave you with a different view of the world that leads to a greater sense of clarity. There’s so much beauty around us if our hearts are open to seeing it,” says Michelle.

“Everything has come full circle," says McGovern. "I feel great about the decisions I have made, my health is great, I really don’t have any complaints. To me, it was kind of like a bad bump, a long bump in the road, two of them- but it makes it part of who I am and that’s just part of my life experience.”

Reference: Information provided by Indiana University Health, where Michelle McGovern works.

Additional reference: http://wtkr.com/2018/04/10/woman-who-survived-leukemia-and-breast-cancer-goes-back-to-school-becomes-oncology-nurse/

Photo Credit: WTKR News