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Local nurse shares journey working through the pandemic and breast cancer diagnosis

By Taylor Holt

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    ST. LOUIS (KMOV) — The proof is tattooed on her hand: Nicole Hendershot is a survivor.

“It’s kind of been surreal,” said Hendershot, reflecting on the past year. She is a Registered Nurse at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital, helping patients through some of life’s toughest journeys. Until last year, when she was on the other side of that care.

“My mom has had breast cancer twice, so I kind of knew there was a chance I may end up with it,” she said. When Hendershot went in for her normal mammogram last October, doctors saw something. A couple weeks after a biopsy, she got the call.

“They said it was invasive ductal carcinoma, but it was stage one so it was caught very early,” she said. She had no symptoms, so it was a shock.

“I was speechless,” she said. “Being on the patient side with a totally different experience.”

Because of COVID, for her first surgery, no one could be there. She was out for six weeks. But, during that time, support from loved ones helped her get through it, including a T-Shirt fundraiser a co-worker held for her. “They were shirts that said SLU strong, and had the Breast Cancer ribbon in the medal for the L part in SLU,” she explained.

However, her dedication couldn’t keep her away from helping others. Soon, she was back at work, even with four months of chemotherapy ahead of her. “Staff was great. If I needed to leave early or I had to call in, they were very supportive,” Hendershot added.

For her own health, she stuck to answering calls and just being support for patients and staff, and doing that during a time when the pandemic was taking a toll on healthcare workers and hospitals.

“I am the Charge Nurse on my floor, so it’s my responsibility to help all of the nurses and the care partners do their job as well, so it was hard for me to step back,” Hendershot told News 4.

Either way, though, the work was rewarding. Following her chemotherapy treatment, staff made sure she got the support she needed as well for reaching the big milestone.

“When I finished Chemo, there wasn’t a bell for me to ring in the clinic because of the pandemic, so they found a bell for me to ring here, and had a little ceremony for that,” Hendershot said.

Hendershot is now in remission, and wants to share a message from her own journey. “I think a lot of people have pushed off all kinds of medical treatment because of the pandemic, and I kind of pushed mine off as well,” she said.

She urges women to do their regular self-exams and annual mammograms. Hendershot said she is blessed hers was caught early. Now, she’s hoping her experience can help others.

“My boyfriend always says, you take your licks with your blessings, so I mean to go through this and realize what great family I have, and just live every day a day at a time is what I take away,” Hendershot said.

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