Two UCF nursing students have learned what it really means to save a life – their own. Kerrie Lynch and Gaby Chaparro, who never met until a week before graduation, both entered the nursing program at the University of Central Florida hoping to make a difference in the health of others, but neither of them ever expected to save their own lives.
The two women graduated from the University of Central Florida in early August after undergoing the test of a lifetime: cancer. Both Lynch and Chaparro owe their lives today to their education, which provided them with the tools for early detection. After diagnosis in fall of 2008, the women have remained in class, and have graduated this summer.
Lynch, 43, who took classes at the University of Central Florida’s main campus, learned what a breast tumor felt like in a Health Assessment Lab class. The school provided false models and fabricated body parts in order to demonstrate patient evaluation. One of the models had a breast tumor, the feeling of which Lynch noted.
A few months later, while performing her routine self breast exam, Lynch recognized the feel of a “little Jelly Belly underneath the skin.” After visiting the University of Central Florida’s Health Services Center, meeting with doctors and undergoing tests, Lynch’s hunch was found to be correct: she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because the tumor was found so early, she went through three months of chemotherapy and a month and a half of radiation treatment.
Similarly, Chaparro, 27, realized that she had cancer during one of her classes at the University of Central California’s Cocoa campus. After learning about chronic diseases in one of her courses, she recognized the symptoms of colon cancer. However, many gastrointestinal disorders and diseases, like Crohn’s disease and Celiac, present with the same symptoms, so it was difficult to pinpoint what was affecting her. Chaparro had dealt with increasingly painful stomach problems as of summer of 2008, but doctors had ignored her suspicions, as a result of her youth.
As her condition worsened, she visited the UCF Health Services Center, where she was examined by a Nurse Practitioner named Kristina Grabnickas. Noticing Chaparro’s weight loss, Grabnickas referred her to a gastroenterologist, who confirmed Chaparro’s diagnosis of colon cancer. Unlike Lynch, Chapparo’s cancer was not found early, and had already metastasized at this point, making treatment more difficult for her than it had been for Lynch. Chaparro underwent six months of chemotherapy.
Fortunately for both Chaparro and Lynch, their professors, counselors, and nursing peers were understanding of the stress both students were under, and allowed the two to adapt their schedule in order to fit their chemotherapy regimens while remaining on track for graduation. Additionally, the professors arranged for labs and community outreach programs that would not interfere with the women’s suppressed immune systems.
Both Chaparro and Lynch finished treatments for their cancers before graduation. The two now hope to work in hospitals, applying what they’ve experienced in the pursuit of their degrees to their patient care.