Nurse doesn't let cancer get in her way of caring for patients

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - She's the source for knowledge and the source for comfort. But now that she's on the receiving end of care for the first time, one local nurse isn't letting cancer keep her from her life's work.

Gina Shay-Zapien handles continuing education for nurses at Menorah Medical Center's Family Birthing Center.  She's also in charge of grief support when mothers lose their babies or fetuses. 

But now the perinatal nurse specialist is dealing with breast cancer.  It's putting her in the uncomfortable position of having others care for her. Shay-Zapien said she feels worse for her patients who have lost babies than she does for herself. 

"I don't feel I can say 'Oh, poor me, I have breast cancer,'" she said, "I do and that's OK. It's something I have to deal with."

Shay-Zapien has undergone four chemotherapy treatments, and has another four to go. She has been persistent about staying on the job, even when her boss has told her to go home. 

The day after her first treatment she taught a class. Less than a week later, she worked a 12-hour shift because she had a critical patient she didn't want to leave.

Shay-Zapien admits to getting tired sometimes, and her supervisor has forced her to pace herself.  The nurses on her unit had T-shirts made up and formed a team for the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure in August. 

She raced with them in a wheelchair after she had breast surgery a few days earlier.  Following the race, the nurses sold the shirts to raise money for her family.

Shay-Zapien said she was not considered a high-risk for breast cancer, and the diagnosis came as a surprise. She said she hopes other women will learn from her to be vigilant and get screened if they feel a lump.

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