Take Note

The patient becomes the caregiver

Susan Huyard works as an oncology nurse at Augusta Health after being a cancer patient herself. She is now in remission.

Former patient returns to Augusta Health, this time as a nurse

Susan Huyard didn’t set out to work in healthcare, much less become an oncology nurse. But the profession seemed to choose her anyway.

After working for several years as an elementary school teacher, she decided to be a stay-at-home mom and home-school her four children. But then, seven years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41. While getting chemotherapy at Augusta Health, Huyard had no idea that the treatment would lead to becoming a nurse there herself someday. But she did know she wanted a new direction once her cancer was in remission.

“The personal relationships that I built in the oncology department were so meaningful to me as a patient,” she recalls. “To see how much the nurses helped people, especially during such a difficult time, led me to go back to school and get my nursing degree. I wanted to be part of that type of support team.”

After getting her degree, Huyard worked at the UVA Cancer Center, but during a checkup at Augusta, she mentioned the strain of her commute to get there. Immediately, the oncology nurses insisted she apply to Augusta, and she took their advice.

Huyard has been an oncology nurse at Augusta for about a year, and she’s now working on her BSN in nursing. She says she loves how positive and optimistic the oncology center can be.

“I know that sounds strange, because people think of cancer as a depressing, dark time,” she says. “But as a cancer survivor and someone who sees others with cancer every day, I can tell you that this disease makes you happy for the life you have. You look at life with a different perspective.”

That’s true with her fellow nurses as well, she adds. Quite a few of the oncology nurses at Augusta are also cancer survivors. Huyard says that provides an added level of empathy that builds those close patient-nurse relationships so vital to treatment.

Of course, she adds, there are challenges, because not every patient will survive their cancer diagnosis. Although the nurses know that’s part of the oncology journey, it’s difficult to hear when a patient-turned-friend has gone into hospice or passed away, she says.

Huyard handles those stressful times by making sure her life stays balanced. Having three teenagers and one pre-teen definitely helps, she says, since she and her husband make sure to schedule plenty of family outings. She also takes time to walk outside every day, if only for a half hour after work, as a way to reset. Despite the sometimes difficult moments, though, she looks forward to spending her time at Augusta.

“It’s definitely a team here, and there are so many amazing people, both in terms of staff and patients,” she says. “I feel fortunate every day.”

To learn more about cancer services at Augusta Health, visit augustahealth.org/cancer-center.