• Oncology Nurse and Cancer Survivor Amy Thacker

  • My cancer journey

    I was diagnosed with kidney cancer in January 1998 at the age of 32. I believe my whole experience from diagnosis to surgery was directed by God.

    My journey with cancer began when I experienced sudden pain in my right flank, which caused me to visit the emergency room.

    During this visit, several tests were performed, including blood work and an ultrasound. The ER physician said a small cyst was found on my right kidney, but he felt the pain was possibly from gallbladder issues. He advised me to follow up with my primary care physician.

    When I saw my doctor, he didn’t see any cause for concern with the cyst but told me God laid it on his heart to further evaluate. He referred me to an urologist for workup and biopsy.

    On the day of the biopsy, my physician cancelled because he said he had a gut feeling the biopsy should be postponed until further testing was completed. I had an appointment for a MRI one week after the scheduled biopsy, but suddenly there was opening the very next day. God was at work again. By the next day, I had the results.

    My physician’s gut feeling was correct – it was kidney cancer. If the surgeon had proceeded with the biopsy – due to the fact that the tumor was totally encapsulated – it could have spread cancer cells throughout my body.

    Thankfully, because God was in control and I had great physicians, my cancer was caught early. I was able to receive immediate treatment.

    Why did this happen to me?

    The diagnosis was shocking because kidney cancer most often occurs in elderly males. At first, I could not believe I was diagnosed with cancer. I thought this does not happen to me, it happens to someone else. Despite the shock of this diagnosis, I felt peace that surpasses all understanding.

    My right kidney was removed, which is the treatment of choice for early stage kidney cancer. My scar extends from my navel to my backbone and included removal of three ribs and a week of hospitalization. But surgical techniques have drastically improved since my surgery in 1998. Today, this procedure is done with only a 3 inch incision and minimal hospitalization.

    I was blessed the process moved so quickly, and I had the support of my family, friends, church family and coworkers. Feeling their love and support and knowing I was constantly being lifted up in prayer is what meant the most to me.

    I was given a new perspective.

    I have been an oncology nurse since 1987, and I always felt I was very empathetic toward my patients. Never did I realize what each patient truly experiences until I was diagnosed. The history of cancer follows you for the rest of your life. Even 18 years later, any new pain or ailment is alarming and makes you wonder is the cancer back?

    Being a survivor has been, in part, a blessing to share with my patients. When they discover I have survived 18 years, it gives them a sense of hope that every single cancer diagnosis will not result in an untimely death.

    Another blessing is the ability to share my story at the annual Wellmont Women’s Cancer Retreat. It is so uplifting to be surrounded by other women who have fought and survived a cancer diagnosis.

    My life before cancer was great. I had two healthy daughters and a loving husband. Although the diagnosis was a shock, it changed my life for the better.

    It made me realize my purpose is to serve others and be selfless. I truly learned to live. God showed me through this time that He is sovereign. He knows what He is doing, and His timing is perfect even if it does not seem that way to us.

    My life changed, but I know what’s important.

    I look back and see how blessed I am because of my relationship with Him. It allows me to see that life is about sharing God’s love with others and loving them. I know when I feel like I am at my weakest – that is when I can be my strongest through the Lord.

    One major revelation from this diagnosis is the small trivial things in life are unimportant. Family, friends, God and sharing the love of God with others is what truly matters.

    Something that has greatly impacted my life to this day was a simple gift from a coworker, a journal. I began daily journaling that very day and have since continued. I am able to look back at entries and see triumphs in difficult times and the ultimate message that God is in control.

    If I lose perspective these journals allow me to refocus and remember that God’s grace is always sufficient regardless of the situation. I share this with patients and encourage them to start writing their thoughts and feelings into a journal.

    My cancer is likely to come back someday and when that day comes I have to stand in the knowledge that God’s grace will carry me through. None of us know what tomorrow or even the next minute hold, so it is important to live every second of every day to the fullest.

    The advances in cancer treatment within the past few years have improved survival and even provided hope. Cancer is not a death sentence as it once was. When I began working as an oncology nurse we had six chairs in the infusion room, and today there are 42. It is truly amazing to see how far we have come. Cancer is never a word you want to hear, but today there is hope associated with it. At the Wellmont Cancer Institute, we see hope every day.

    My job as an oncology nurse allows me to keep perspective. As I witness patients unable to do the simple things we take for granted, such as walk or breathe without difficulty, I am continuously amazed by their positive attitude and faith.

    I learned oncology nursing is not my job; it is my ministry and my calling. My prayer has been that God will work in our office and make it a lighthouse of His love. This is coming to fruition, and we hear this from our patients, their families and the community.

    I consider my profession not only calling, but also a blessing. I recently encountered someone on an elevator that asked what I did for a job. When I said oncology nursing, he said he thought that was a depressing job. I can see how he could think that, but it is all about perspective and I see my job as one of the biggest blessings in my life.  I actually feel lucky to be allowed to touch these patient’s lives in such a special and meaningful way every single day.

  • Share your story

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