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A Nurse's Journey to Self-Care
Published Jan. 12, 2018

Aveanna nurse Crystal faced her first breast cancer diagnosis when she was in her early thirties. It was milder then. Stage two. Less aggressive. Crystal went through treatment, but even then her health wasn’t exactly her first priority. With her nursing career in full swing, she was not slowing down.

“I’ve been a nurse since 1997,” Crystal told me, readjusting her hospital gown. “That’s been my primary focus. As far as myself and my own personal health… I kind of put that on the backburner for a moment.” Even with the distractions of her career, Crystal won her first battle against cancer and was in remission for twelve years.

But in 2016, a pain in her breast took Crystal to the emergency room. A sixteen-centimeter tumor was breaking through the skin of her chest. Crystal is no stranger to self-examinations, but this tumor started at the wall of her chest. She couldn’t feel it at all until the pain started. This time the cancer was stage four.

Even after her diagnosis in 2016, Crystal continued to work with her patient. In fact, she didn’t stop working until she ended up in the emergency room again, this time after a seizure. Unknown to Crystal and her doctors, the cancer had spread to her brain. “I would go to work today if I could,” Crystal admitted to me, chuckling. As much as Crystal loves her work and her ability to help others, she is coming to appreciate the need to take care of herself. It took a seizure and an emergency brain surgery to slow her down, but she finally understands how important her health is.

Crystal sees in other nurses the same spirit of care that was in her. But she also sees the same lack of self-care. Crystal says that this neglect of self is the consequence of a certain mindset that nurses have – the mindset of dedicating your life completely to helping others. Nurses struggle to get out of the mode of taking care of others when they are confronted with the need to take care of themselves. Luckily, Crystal has a few suggestions for how nurses can reconcile the mindset of caregiving with the need of self-care.

Realize your worth

Crystal wants all women to know their worth. Although you may at times make your health your last priority, it is just as valuable as the health of those you care for. As Crystal put it, “If you put your own issues on the back burner, things around you tend to fall apart.” As a caregiver, you can touch countless lives. Your health is important to your own life and to the lives of your patients. When you realize the worth of your health, no matter how busy life gets you will always make time for medical appointments and examinations.

Equip others

Another key to balancing self-care and caregiving is equipping others to join you in your mission of care. For Crystal, this means letting a new nurse take over her patient’s care. Although it was difficult to leave her patient in order to tend to her own health, Crystal has been able to do so because she knows he is in good hands with his new nurse. Crystal says she is “passing the baton” to her fellow nurses.

Know your resources

Crystal knows that too many of us dodge appointments because of the cost. If you do not have health insurance, she wants you to know there are clinics that provide breast exams for free to those that need them. You can visit the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program to find free or low-cost breast and cervical cancer screening locations near you.

If you are struggling to prioritize your health, please don’t wait another day to take Crystal’s advice. Bring others into your mission of care. There are so many people who will share your burden, if only you would ask. Training others to provide care is essential to taking care of both yourself and your patients or loved ones. Make sure you schedule and keep your medical appointments, screenings, and tests. Treat your health like the valuable asset that it is. This year, join Crystal and dedicate yourself to taking care of you.