Sara Kerr Reges, my best friend from childhood, is a nurse navigator who divides her time between the traumatic brain injury and breast cancer departments. Although you might think those two areas have nothing to do with each other, in Sara’s case they do. Twelve years ago, her then-eight-year-old son Charles suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit by a car. Then, about a decade later, Sara was diagnosed with breast cancer.
After each devastating event, Sara was determined to take what she learned as a parent and as a patient and use it to be the best nurse she could be. She made “lemonade out of lemons,” as the saying goes, and in the process has been able to help many people cope with their own difficult situations.
The secret, she says, is to believe in your own ability to cope, to feel that it’s going to get better and that you can roll with the punches.
“I was blessed with a wonderful mother who raised me and my five sisters with great love of family, faith and friendship,” Sara told me. “These core beliefs and values helped me through many difficult situations. Because of my relationships and my great faith, I have been able to overcome many difficult situations.”
When Charles was struck by the car and sustained the traumatic brain injury, Sara knew, as a nurse, the seriousness of it. But she stayed positive and tried to find the good in this difficult situation. When Charles fully recovered, his family organized a fund raiser for a much-needed portable CAT scan. This machine has spared many children the challenges Charles had to endure.
Sara reflects: “In my work I have found that while families like the fact I’m a nurse, they love the fact I’ve also been through it. My biggest advice to them is that you can’t change what has happened, but you can, and should, look to make it better. I often tell my patients to look for the good in the difficult journey, to ‘make the most of every day’ and ‘let go and let God’ – two of my favorite phrases.”
Her belief in her own advice was again test when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2017. Like many women, she had never smoked or taken hormones. She had always led a healthy lifestyle. Once again, she dug deep into her inner beliefs, determined to make this into something good. She is now cancer-free, and has been able to bring even more value, through her first-hand experiences, to her role as a rehabilitation nurse.
Staying physically and mentally sharp helps as well. Even throughout her most trying times, Sara stuck to an exercise routine that she calls “cardio and mental.” Her walking, spinning, and other classes helped take her mind off her son’s and then her own recovery, and allow her to focus on getting stronger.
Exercising also helps give some structure to the day. “I get up early… make a point of meeting a friend or one of my sisters. That way, I can’t roll over and ignore the alarm.” By the evening, she sets a fairly regular bedtime so that the day has a definite end and she can regain her energy. “Exercise helps self-esteem. And boy can it get trounced upon with long hours of waiting at the hospital, and with changes in my body from surgery and chemo.”
For those facing health challenges, reaching out to friends for companionship, advice and diversion is often a great formula for keeping spirits high and holding things in perspective. “Do your best to keep yourself occupied and with other people,” was Sara’s last kernel of advice. Realizing that you’re not the only one with problems, or that you can still offer support and advice to others, or laugh and enjoy light moments, is critical for keeping an upbeat attitude.
Although it’s always a treat to see and catch up with old friends when I visit my home town, it should come as no surprise that I find spending time with Sara to be particularly inspiring.
So, before summer draws to a close, make a pitcher of lemonade, and look for a friend who needs a glass!
The American Society of Clinical Oncologists website discusses self-image and cancer on this link https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/managing-emotions/self-image-and-cancer
Michelle Santiago, a cancer survivor echoes Sara’s exercise advice in her blog: https://www.cancer.net/blog/2019-06/how-finding-strength-within-helped-me-recover-cancer