In their shoes

Kelly Kaur knows what chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to remove cancer are like.

She knows how it feels to struggle to afford all the bills that come with treatment. And she knows the devastation of that diagnosis and how that moment changes your whole life. And she hopes her experience as a cancer survivor will help her better relate to her future patients.

Kaur, 38, who was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in 2015, is studying to become an RN and specifically wants to work as an oncology nurse. Her goal is to help patients who are struggling with the worst diagnosis of their lives, because she has been there before, too.

“I feel like I can relate to the people going through treatment,” she said.

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After finishing her treatment, the Greenwood woman began noticing the ways cancer had changed her. She enjoyed life more. Small arguments seemed ridiculous to her. What used to seem like such a hectic life slowed down, and she focused on spending time with friends and family, she said.

And she knew she wanted to start a new career path. Kaur was already working as an LPN, but decided to go back to school to become an RN, with a goal to work in oncology.

She believes her diagnosis was a message from God, that this is what she should be doing, she said. “Everything is for a reason, and I feel like that is my life’s goal, helping people with cancer,” she said. “I went through this because God wants me to help other people.”

With three children, ages 2, 6 and 8, and working, going back to school was a big load. Kaur was five months pregnant with her youngest child when she was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes under her arms. She was devastated and terrified. She began a less intensive round of chemotherapy, and she and her baby were closely monitored.

When her son was born, she felt so much relief. “As soon as I saw him, I forgot all the pain and suffering. It just made me realize how lucky he is and I am,” she said.

After delivery, Kaur began a more intensive treatment, including more chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Those months were difficult. She had to quit working, and her husband had to reduce his hours to help care for her. They struggled financially but got help from friends, family, their church and Community Health Foundation, including vouchers for groceries.

She hopes that as a nurse, she can help her patients find the resources they need to get help when they are struggling, she said. “People get embarrassed, but it’s OK to ask for help,” she said.

Kaur is now cancer-free, but continues to go for follow-up appointments. She feels good and healthy again, she said. She believes cancer was God testing her, and she made it through.

“God doesn’t give you something you can’t handle. So he knew this was something we can handle, and he was by my side,” she said.

She now works part time in geriatrics as an LPN, has classes two days a week and clinicals one day a week. Dantra Finkler, her professor at Harrison College, said she has noticed her knack for nursing. Kaur is one of those students whom professors talk about because she already has such a strong grasp of nursing and everything that goes into the profession, Finkler said.

Not only is Kaur compassionate, but she is also a critical thinker, who knows how to prioritize and delegate, Finkler said. “She is an exceptional nurse,” she said.

Kaur is passionate about nursing, something Finkler saw when she contributed to classroom discussions. And while it’s important for nurses to be able to sympathize with their patients, Kaur can empathize because of what she has been through, which is a huge help, Finkler said.

“You don’t understand fully until you have been in that position,” she said.

Once she graduates, Kaur will need to take more classes to specialize in oncology. She hopes to be able to work at Community Health Network, where she received her treatment.

She is prepared for her patients to be scared, but she hopes to be a part of the support team that will help push them to get through their treatment, she said. She wants to look for any way she can to make their life just a little bit easier during treatment.

“You hear cancer, and it’s a frightening word, but it’s made me a better person,” Kaur said.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”The Kaur file” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Name: Kelly Kaur

Age: 38

Diagnosis: Stage 3 breast cancer

Treatment: Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery. Kaur was pregnant when she was diagnosed, and her treatment had to be less intensive until she delivered.

What cancer taught you:

Cancer taught her to appreciate life in the moment and not in the future. Don’t hold grudges. "Love life, live life, appreciate life."

How cancer changed you:

It made her a better person. She used to just work, and not enjoy life. She is happier now, has a lot more friends and support than before.

What would you tell someone just diagnosed:

"I know they’re scared, but just hang in there. You’re going to get through this." Have faith, have hope. Be strong. "If I can get through it, anyone can."