National Nurses Week: An oncology nurse will never forget the courage of breast cancer patients

Misti DeMargel
Misti DeMargel (MD Anderson Cancer Center)

HOUSTON – KPRC 2 appreciates nurses and all the work they do. In honor of National Nurses Week, here is one nurse who is keeping Houston healthy.

Misti DeMargel, BSN, RN is a certified breast care nurse at MD Anderson Cancer Center. She has been a nurse for 22 years.

What’s the biggest reason you became a nurse and why?

When I was 8 years old, my grandfather was having surgery in the Texas Medical Center. I remember walking into a hospital lobby 36 years ago and feeling at home. I have such a clear memory of standing there thinking that I would work in a hospital like that one day. I cannot explain why, but I just knew. It was innate. When I graduated from Willis High School, I went straight to the University of Texas in Austin and then the University of Texas Health Science Center and graduated at 21 years old with my Bachelors of Science in Nursing. My first job was in Labor & Delivery. That is what I always wanted to do. But one of my colleagues went to work at MD Anderson and convinced me to apply for a job there. I had never been interested in oncology, but I did it. I started working in oncology on my birthday, July 12, 1999, and have been in oncology since.

Who inspired you to do what you do?

I have had such an incredible career filled with mentors who have shaped me into the nurse I am. As a brand new oncology nurse at 23 years old, I had the fortune of becoming the nurse for Dr. Nicholas Papadopoulos at MD Anderson and was trained by one of the best oncology nurses, Teresa Bryant, RN who has since retired from MD Anderson. Dr. Papadopoulos taught me the dedication and compassion it takes to work in oncology, and Teresa taught me to ask the hard questions and to not be afraid to listen to the answers without looking away. Those two people shaped me as a nurse.

What do you think when people call nurses heroes?

At first, with the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t feel deserving of being called a hero because I have not cared for any COVID-19 positive patients. But I have since realized that as nurses and healthcare workers, we can be heroes to our patients at MD Anderson by protecting them tirelessly every day with high walls and deep moats. To them, their cancer diagnosis is what they are battling. So, by showing up every day and answering their calls, we can be their heroes.

Have you been working with patients who have been diagnosed with coronavirus? If so, what’s the most challenging part of caring for people in this situation?

I have not worked with patients with COVID-19. However, as healthcare workers, we must do everything possible in order to protect ourselves and, ultimately, our vulnerable patients. One of the biggest challenges for me in dealing with the pandemic is not being able to reach out and hold my patient’s hand when she is scared or hug a coworker who is having a bad day. That is something that I will not get used to.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I am most fulfilled when I am sitting in a room with one of my patients listening to their worries and fears. As a veteran nurse, I have developed confidence in my ability to comfort my patients with expertise and compassion. Knowing that my patients count on me to be there when they need me is the biggest reward I get from my work.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in the medical field?

I would be a zookeeper taking care of elephants.

What do you think you will remember most about the coronavirus pandemic?

What I will remember most about the COVID-19 pandemic is the courage of the women with breast cancer who must now walk alone, due to visitor limitations in the hospital, to the pre-op holding area to have their breast removed or my patients with gynecologic cancer who go to the chemotherapy unit to get their first round of chemotherapy alone. These women have such resolve to fight this disease. It is so inspiring to me.

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