CRNAs are accustomed to being the caregivers – providing comfort and care along with a good anesthesia experience. But there are times when the CRNA becomes the patient. When CRNA Julie Hutchinson was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, she developed a new level of empathy for patients and an increased appreciation for the gift of life.
“I considered myself very healthy so the diagnosis was a total shock to me,” Hutchinson said. “I felt I always had compassion for my patients, but now I can completely relate to the fears and uncertainties they often face.”
The realities of treatment included surgery, chemotherapy and time away from work. Three months after a bilateral mastectomy she started two rounds of chemotherapy that were each three months in duration. Hutchinson was out of work for six months between the surgery and first round of chemotherapy, which is known in oncology as “the red devil.”
Her work family at Excela Health stepped up during this time. Not only did they pick up missed calls and weekend shifts, they also collected money to buy a human hair wig. But their support did not stop there. Hutchinson had only enough time to cover her first three months off work, so her colleagues donated paid time off hours to help cover the additional time she needed for treatment and recovery.
“I’m extremely blessed with a great work support system,” she said.
Hutchinson’s family has been by her side through every step in her treatment. Her husband is a physician’s assistant and the driving force behind her pursuing nurse anesthesiology at Excela Health School of Anesthesia. With his job flexibility, he has been there throughout the treatments and journey and has been able to help with everything along the way.
In addition to her colleagues and family, her support system also includes friends, survivors and faith. They keep her fighting and moving forward. Her strong faith has also been an asset in this battle as she chose from the beginning to believe that God wanted her to be a survivor.
“It is unbelievable how much love and kindness I received through all this. Seeing this generosity and kindness has actually changed me,” she said. “I now realize how much just a simple card can turn around someone’s day or feelings.”
After being out of work for six months she started a less toxic form of chemotherapy that was administered weekly over the course of three months. She received treatments on Fridays, which allowed her to recover over the weekend and return to work for Tuesdays and Wednesdays. She eased back into working full time after completing the second round of chemotherapy, which she said was a huge mental relief.
She is currently managing a local reoccurrence. A tumor that was the same type of cancer appeared on her suture line. The tumor was removed, and she is now receiving radiation treatments. She is working through this course of treatment that occurs Monday through Friday and consists of 33 radiation sessions.
The diagnosis changed her life. It also brought a renewed focus on life and the things that are truly important. She said she plans to live life like it is short; say yes to more fun things; and be the best mother and wife she can be. Hutchinson is in the process of forming a support group for young female breast cancer survivors involving adventure activities such as zip lining.
She knows everyone has a story, trial and path. When it comes to patients she tries to be a light during what can be a dark part of their story. Hutchinson said she approaches each patient with empathy and hopes her patients can feel and know that she truly cares.
“I have been given the gift of realizing that you never know what the future holds,” she said. “Focus on what’s truly important to you, don’t sweat the small stuff and love hard.”