In 2014, Melisa Wilson, DNP, ARNP, ACNP-BC, the Clinical Operations Director and Pulmonary Hypertension Program Coordinator at AdventHealth Orlando, discovered a lump in her breast. Fearing a cancer diagnosis, her husband encouraged her to see her doctor immediately.
Wilson nearly didn’t. After all, she didn’t have a family history of breast cancer. She thought it was a mammary duct drying up as she was pumping breast milk less for their child.
Thankfully, she listened to her husband. An ultrasound led to a biopsy and then a diagnosis.
“I was taken entirely by surprise. The journey was swift from the time we felt the lump to diagnosis—just eight days. I did not expect to hear, ‘I am sorry, Mrs. Wilson, you have breast cancer,’” Wilson recalls.
Wilson’s diagnosis was Stage IIB HER2 positive, and for the next 18 months, her treatments included Herceptin, Perjeta, Carboplatin, Taxotere, and Neulasta. Her inspiration was her son, who had been born at 23-weeks. “He fought for his life, and in turn, it inspired me to fight for mine,” says Wilson. “My faith in God got me though.” She also had tremendous support from her family, work family, friends, and her oncology team, including her NP, MD, and LCSW.
The most challenging part of her journey, Wilson says, was financial. “The bills for oncology treatment came in quickly and were very high. I maintained my full-time job as a nurse practitioner, though, with some accommodations. I would work up to the day of chemo, take six days to recover, and then return to work for another two-week cycle,” she recalls. “It was hard, and the bills would be overwhelming to deal with at times. I remember being at chemotherapy and getting a call asking me to pay several thousand dollars to pay for a test I needed.”
Wilson beat the cancer, and she says that she now can more easily empathize with her patients because of what she’s experienced. “As an NP, I can relate to my patients on so many different levels. My patients have a rare cardiopulmonary disease—pulmonary hypertension. Most have no idea what pulmonary hypertension entails,” she says.
A few years ago, Wilson says, she had a patient who was scared about having a line placed in her chest. This needed to be done for infusion of pulmonary hypertension treatment. The patient experienced a lot of pain due to being on a subcutaneously infused machine. “One day I called her and asked for her to come in for an office visit with me. I explained that I had done as much as I could to manage her pain, and she needed to consider a different route of infusion. She was tearful and upset. She was concerned about her body image,” says Wilson. “I showed her my port, though it was different and showed her my head, which was hairless due to chemo. I told her, ‘I understand what it is like for your body to change in front of your eyes, but these are the things we do to survive.’ We cried together, and she went on to have the line placed.”
Just recently, Wilson says that her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Wilson believes that she went through her journey so that she can help others and that cancer taught her how to live and not be as fearful. “My tribulation shaped me, and now I help my Mom. I am happy to be her advocate,” says Wilson. “Being there for her and not feeling helpless is rewarding. I know it gives her comfort.”