1. Ponder, Judy L.

Article Content

Growing up in an impoverished area of eastern Kentucky, my life was forever changed by the opportunities proffered at a work-college, particularly the desire to give back. Years later, as director of education at a pediatric orthopedic hospital, I could do the job in my sleep, but a nagging feeling of wanting to work with students prompted a career change. Landing a full-time faculty position at my alma mater, a dream come true, was a challenge I welcomed with gusto. That is, until I was diagnosed with premenopausal Stage 1 breast cancer in January 2014, during the first few months of teaching. Adjusting to academe and the cancer diagnosis left me swirling. I worried about abandoning students, job loss, who would cover my courses, or if I would return. In reality, the 6-week recovery I anticipated was nearly impossible, but did I plan for that? I sure did.

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

Within days of the diagnosis, I underwent bilateral mastectomy surgery. Handing off my courses to other faculty members eager to help left me feeling relieved and hopeful for a quick comeback. Unfortunately, a follow-up scan revealed an enlarged lymph node under my right arm. Previous scans indicated no sentinel node involvement. With a second surgery, I dashed plans for a 6-week return and tearfully broke the news to colleagues, who informed students. Not knowing when, or if, I would return was hard to accept. Although I knew my breast cancer could not be prevented, or even anticipated, I felt disappointed to delay my dream job and that I had let down the students.


My mantra became, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10, NIV). I wanted, no, had, to remain positive for my children, my husband, and for the students who sent cards, made hospital visits, and brought homemade food. The deer stew, cooked by a student and her mother, brought back memories, as it represented the plain living of rural Kentucky that I call home.


"Come back to us soon," students would write. They had seen me pray and knew I leaned on my faith. Working at a school with the historic mission to "promote the cause of Christ," where public prayers were the norm, I had prayed with students. Faith in God gave me, and students, an enduring message of hope. Despite the devastating diagnosis, I wanted to be a positive role model, showing resilience in the face of adversity. Surely God would want no less.


Resilience is the ability of individuals to bounce back or to cope successfully, despite adverse circumstances (Rutter, 2012). It should be no surprise to observe that nurses who view their colleagues as caring and value their opinions have the ability to develop psychological reserves (Glass, 2009) to overcome trials. Despite being a new faculty member and having to be away, my colleagues and students kept me abreast of happenings. Although barely knowing me, colleagues nonetheless kept track of chemotherapy appointments and volunteered to drive and sit with me during the daylong ordeals. At the end of my treatment, my workplace was filled with well-wishers, who came to celebrate my survival with balloons, wrist bands, and a potluck dinner. Those moments reaffirmed my calling to teach at my alma mater. I clung to these promises: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV). In God's grace, he used my experience of resiliency in a time of adversity to demonstrate his plan to me, other faculty, and students who were personally involved.


Editor's note: Judy returned to teaching part-time fall semester 2015. At the time of publication, she is working full time, and all follow-up scans remain clear.


Glass N. (2009). An investigation of nurses' and midwives' academic/clinical workplaces: A healing model to improve and sustain hope, optimism, and resilience in professional practice. Holistic Nursing Practice, 23(3), 158-170. doi:10.1097/HNP.0b013e3181a056c4 [Context Link]


Rutter M. (2012). Resilience as a dynamic concept. Development and Psychopathology, 24(2), 335-344. doi:10.1017/S0954579412000028 [Context Link]