Focus

FS

From Cancer Survivor to Nurse: A Tale of Empathy

4 min read  |  December 23, 2022  | 
Disponible en Español |

A nurse taps her own experience to help patients at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Jasmine Sandoval, DNP, MBA, RN, remembers the instant her life changed. 

“It was a mundane Monday afternoon in 2008. My husband was on active duty in the military. I was entering my final year of nursing school. I’m rushing home to beat the rush hour to grab my kids, ages five and three, from daycare,” Sandoval says. 

She stops at the preschool and kindergarten and resumes the drive home when her phone rings. Seeing the call is from a hospital, she picks up. It’s a nurse practitioner calling with results from her recent OB/GYN examination. 

Within minutes, Sandoval is told three things: 

  1. Her pap smear showed abnormal hyperplasia cells.
  2. She needs to schedule a biopsy as soon as possible. 
  3. She should go to cancer.org for more information.

Those words hit me. Cancer. Dot. Org. Everything she said after that became a blur.

Jasmine Sandoval, DNP, MBA, RN

Hanging up the phone, Sandoval weeps. From the backseat, her children say, “What’s wrong, Mommy?”

Though she had no symptoms, Sandoval learned later through a biopsy that she had cervical cancer. The diagnosis stunned Sandoval, and her future interactions with the provider did little to soften the blow. 

A caregiver’s vow

Nurse Jasmine Sandoval looks out from an overlook
Jasmine Sandoval, DNP, MBA, RN

Reflecting on the memory, Sandoval says, “As a woman in her final year of nursing studies, I vowed never to replicate this experience as a caregiver with my own patients.”

As a result of her journey, Sandoval changed her nursing specialty to oncology. She now serves as nurse manager for the Head and Neck Clinic at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

Though cancer-free for 15 years, Sandoval’s diagnosis left an enduring impression. 

“Many cancer survivors will tell you that even after a cure, we live in perpetual fear, afraid that the C-word is ready to rear its ugly head with every annual checkup.” 

It wasn’t just the diagnosis that left Sandoval shaken. It was the detached manner in which she was treated. 

“My experience taught me to be sensitive and empathetic to the patients and families I interact with. Joining Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center gave me an opportunity to provide the empathetic care and compassion I desperately needed many years ago. At Sylvester, I learn from so many passionate and compassionate colleagues who understand the right words and right approach to use.” 

Sandoval recalls a patient who came into her clinic for a routine follow-up.

Her blood pressure was so low, the clinicians considered sending her to the emergency room. The patient became frustrated; she wanted to drive herself home, but it wasn’t safe. 

“After sitting down and speaking with her, I learned she had taken her blood pressure medication right before coming in to see us. I gave her some water, had her sit there a while, and recommended she follow up with her cardiologist,” Sandoval says. 

Giving the patient extra time and support stabilized her blood pressure so that she could safely drive. 

By “digging a little deeper and understanding the situation from her perspective,” Sandoval navigated the interaction successfully.

Surviving cancer is a journey that can be fraught with fear. 

“Preventative care meant bracing yourself for potential bad news,” Sandoval says. 

After learning about the Sylvester Cancer Survivorship Program, she realized “survivorship comes in all shapes and forms.” 

Everyone takes the journey in their own way. 

Despite her fears, Sandoval forged on. Her treatment was successful. She completed nursing school and raised a family. 

“I kept going back to school for what brought me joy. My coping mechanism is to live life to the fullest. At the end of each day, I ask myself, ‘Did I do everything I could do today?’” 

For Sandoval, doing everything she can means “being the gentle hand and comforting words for the next patient who enters the doors of my oncology clinic.” 

In healing her own life, Sandoval discovered a way to help others. 

Click here to learn more about the Sylvester Cancer Survivorship Program.


Nancy Moreland is a regular contributor to UMiami Health News. She has written for several major health care systems and the CDC. Her writing also appears in the Chicago Tribune and U.S. News & World Report.


Tags: cancer care in Miami, empathetic care, patient advocate, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

Continue Reading