WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- Early detection through monthly breast self exams, regular mammograms after age 40, and annual clinical visits, can save lives. Simple lifestyle changes -- diet, exercise, and sleep -- go a long way in preventing some breast cancers. Those are facts Georgetown Oncology Nurse Mercedes Watson understands better than most of us.
Cancer is Mercedes Watson's business. For more than a dozen years, the last three years as Assistant Nurse Manager, Mercedes has worked with oncology patients in the Infusion Center at Georgetown University Hospital.
"Patients come in for their chemotherapy on a regular basis, sometimes hydration, blood transfusions," said Watson.
Cancer is not only her life's work but a disease that has infected her family's life too, specifically, breast cancer.
Watson shared, "My mother, she was diagnosed at 40; her sister at 45 and two cousins on my mom's side also in their 40s."
But when she celebrated her 40th and then her 50th birthdays, Mercedes was certain she had dodged a bullet. Then, in December 2010 at age 53, breast cancer stopped being a disease for other people.
Watson remembered, "It was rough at first, a hard pill to swallow on my own."
Breast surgeon Dr. Shawna Willey broke the news. She also had to talk her longtime colleague out of choosing an overly aggressive surgical procedure: a bilateral mastectomy.
Dr. Willey said, "That's a common knee jerk reaction and I think we have to tailor treatment for what an individual has. And Mercedes didn't need that and I'm glad we could hold her back and she's doing very well."
With the less aggressive procedure, Mercedes Watson was able to return to the oncology unit 3-weeks after her lumpectomy. She never missed a day as she completed 6 and a half weeks of radiation thanks to the overwhelming support from her fellow nurses.
Oncology certified nurse Jeanne Tomeck, who has worked with Mercedes since the early 1990s, told us, "A lot of times just having that support here, having the people around her, it just helped her work through that a lot better as well."
Mercedes Watson was such a model patient, most of her patients never even realized she was on the same cancer path as they were. And that's the way she wanted it...them focusing on their own well being, not hers.
"When they tell me I don't know what they're going thru, I can break it down for them. Yes, I do understand. It's made them feel better. I have a little more compassion and love...because I've walked in their shoes," said Watson.
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