In honor of Oncology Nursing Month we shine our spotlight on Gina Shay-Zapien. Gina is the Breast Care Nurse Navigator at Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park, Kansas. She joins the oncology field, having previously worked as a Perinatal Clinical Nurse Specialist. Gina is the mother of three teenagers who also have that long hyphenated last name. It was her husband’s idea and yes, he is hyphenated as well! She enjoys being outside, taking walks with the family, and knitting sometimes doing all three simultaneously!
We are proud to count Gina as a supporter of our mission. We hope you enjoy getting to know her in this month’s PearlPoint Spotlight!
PearlPoint: Why did you become a cancer nurse navigator? What do you find most gratifying about your work?
Gina: After being a labor and delivery nurse for many years, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. I had wonderful support from friends and family, but did not have a navigator. When I heard about the concept of navigation for cancer patients, there was no doubt in my mind that it was the right thing to do. Sharing in the journey with patients and helping decrease some of their anxiety has truly reinforced the notion that for me cancer was a GIFT!
PearlPoint: What’s the most common struggle you find your patients face?
Gina: While it is often not verbalized, I see many patients wrestling with the “pressure to be positive.” When you have cancer, people give you all kinds of advice and pep talks. “You will get through this.” “You are so strong!’ “I had a friend with that kind of cancer and she did just fine.” While the positive comments can be uplifting, some days you just don’t feel it. There are times when I all I can think is “Cancer stinks!” “This isn’t fair!” Every cancer patient (and probably every person on earth!) needs a safe place to vent the frustration and the fear. Sometimes that is all we need to just release it. Then we can go back to wearing the strong, cancer-fighting, nothing-can-stop-me-now face.
PearlPoint: How long have you worked with PearlPoint as a referral source? What sets PearlPoint apart from other cancer organizations?
Gina: I refer patients to PearlPoint for information and for support. One of my favorite things on the PearlPoint site is the online journal. It is a great place for tracking symptoms and processing feelings. It is a safe place to vent those negative thoughts and reflect on the positives hidden in the midst of a life-threatening illness.
PearlPoint: Who is your role model and why?
Gina: I have so many!! My role models are not famous; they are just the people I encounter in daily life. I admire the older gentleman who goes to church the week after his wife died, the daughter who patiently walks the grocery store aisle with her aging parent, the breast cancer survivor who bravely risks pregnancy to have a healthy daughter, and the immigrant who struggles every day to communicate in English. People are amazing! We have so much that we can learn from each other.
PearlPoint: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your life?
Gina: I have a favorite prayer that I have used at many times in my life. It is from St. Theresa of Lisieux. Part of the prayer says, “May I trust God that I am exactly where I am meant to be.” For me, this is a reminder to live in the moment. I try to appreciate and celebrate TODAY and leave tomorrow’s worries for another day.