Cathy Nguyen, one of my former nurse practitioner students at the University of California, Irvine, has just been diagnosed with metastatic cancer and needs our help. She was treated for Stage 2 Cervical Cancer 2 years ago while pursuing her education as a nurse practitioner. She underwent aggressive chemotherapy and radiation while maintaining her full-time status as a NP student. Her determination and perseverance were unmatched and watching her walk across the graduation stage, June 2018, was an extremely emotional and proud moment for all. Everyone thought she was in remission and her future was so optimistic, desiring to work with women facing the same challenges she did. Despite her difficulties, she gave back to her profession and community by serving on the Board of Directors for the California Association for Nurse Practitioners (CANP) Orange County Chapter as the Social Medial Rep for the 2018-2019 term and was also involved in the UCI Nursing Alumni Association.
Several months ago, Cathy developed back pain that was initially diagnosed as musculoskeletal pain. A PET scan during that time did not show any signs of cancer or metastasis. However, her pain progressively worsened and she was found to have a large invasive mass on her thoracic spine. She was hospitalized the next day and underwent major spinal surgery to remove part of the tumor and stabilize her spine. The biopsy revealed metastatic cancer and, now, she will be undergoing aggressive chemo and radiation therapies. Her prognosis is unknown. She was working as a Family NP in Mission Viejo and can no longer work. This is devastating and she is in need of help. Here is her story:
“You’re a 2-year cancer survivor of Stage 2 Cervical Cancer!” - That was the news that was given to me by my Gyn Oncologist 1 month ago. However, I’d been experiencing an odd upper back pain for the last 9 months. After multiple medical evaluations and imaging, it was deemed a musculoskeletal issue, such as a bad strain. I underwent physical therapy and chiropractor care, which provided some symptom relief, but then the pain became progressively worse and I developed numbness in my left arm.
On October 9th, I had an MRI of the Thoracic Spine to further evaluate my symptoms and within 24 hours, my entire life took an unexpected 180 turn. I was told there was an “infiltrating 9.6cm solid mass” in my left upper spine, extending from T4-T9 and a “compression fracture of my 7th thoracic spine” associated with an invasive tumor. Within 48 hours, I was hospitalized and underwent spinal surgery and 2 thoracotomies to remove the mass, decompress the nerves, and fuse my spine for stabilization. My worst nightmare had come true, my cancer was back, metastasizing to my spine. I was in disbelief; several months prior I had a PET scan that did not show any indications of cancer.
I went from a stage 2 cancer survivor to a stage 4 cancer patient overnight. I was finally working as a nurse practitioner, a career I fought so hard to achieve when I was fighting my initial cervical cancer during my NP education. I thought my life had finally stabilized and saw my future as bright and hopeful.
This whirlwind has taken everyone by surprise and, as a result, I am now in need of your help. At the moment, I am unable to work or provide for my family. I am blessed with a wonderful daughter and boyfriend that are supporting me and helping me stay positive, fighting one day at a time. However, living expenses and medical bills are looming, as I can no longer work due to my emergent illness. I am not the type to reach out to ask for help, but this abrupt shock has left me with few options. Any donation would be extremely helpful to my family and me in this time of need. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for your kindness in helping us fight through this, hopefully once and for all. No one has declared a prognosis on my illness, as we are hoping for a miracle.
With Much Love and Thanks,
Hien “Cathy” Nguyen and Family