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UCF Nursing Professor Teaches Through Breast Cancer Diagnosis

The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Joyce DeGennaro talks about how her students keep her going and why she subscribes to the power of positive thinking.

University of Central Florida nursing professor Joyce DeGennaro hasn’t missed a day of class during the coronavirus pandemic. But what makes this even more exceptional is the wife and mother of two children has stage 4 breast cancer.

WMFE’s Danielle Prieur spoke with DeGennaro about how her students keep her going and why she subscribes to the power of positive thinking.

WMFE: Your story is so incredible to me, because you haven’t missed a day of teaching while going through all of this. I guess my question is, why? Has it helped you in some way?

DeGennaro: Yes. If you keep your mind going, you know, I was always a yes person before I got cancer. Now, cancer did tell me to slow down a bit. It’s OK to say no to things, you know. But teaching was one thing, that I was like, ‘no,’ you know, my bosses said, ‘Joyce, why don’t you take the semester off?’ Or, you know, ‘no,’ because I felt like if I did that, then what would I do? Sit around the house and say, ‘Oh, when’s my next chemo?’ and dwell on the side effects of chemo and, you know, live in a pity party.

At that point, I realized, being the patient, what they really truly needed to know. Textbooks can teach you procedures, textbooks can teach you pathophysiology, and you know, the nursing interventions that you should do. But textbooks can’t teach you how that patient feels. And now that I have experienced it, I can tell the students, ‘Listen, this procedure right here hurts. And one of the best things that you can do for your patients is, you know, put an ice pack on that site after you dress it.’

And so you know, those are the things that stick with them.

And students email me all the time and say, you know, ‘Ms. G, I heard your voice yesterday. And I did that, and the patient loved it,’ you know, and that’s what keeps me going. That’s what, like, makes my day.

WMFE: Tell me a little bit about you know what they’ve taught you through this, but also what you hope to kind of teach them.

DeGennaro: You know, everybody knows, most nurses know what interventions they need to do for what disease prognosis, you know, that kind of thing.

But just take one step further, anticipate the patient’s needs. Even if you don’t think it’s important to you, it could be important to them, so find out what’s important to them. And just take it one step further. And it can make all the difference in the world for a patient.

So and then, you know, students teach me, you know, what works and what doesn’t work. And, ‘Ms. G, what if this happens, what do I do?’ And, you know, I feel privileged to be able to mentor them and teach them well, ‘I had a nurse one time do this for me, and it was wonderful,’ you know.

So it doesn’t have to necessarily be what I have done. But what I have experienced, you know what I’m saying?

WMFE: And I was curious, what would you want to share with other people who are getting that diagnosis today or next week?

DeGennaro: Oh, take it one day at a time. You know, surround yourself with people who care, truly care about you. And take one day at a time and keep pressing forward. Even if you never get a report that is positive. Like, you know, oh, you’re cancer free. You know, just keep going forward. Just keep moving. Because maybe one day you will.

Danielle Prieur