By Nancy Gay
Cramming for exams is not the type of thing Heather Hay planned on doing at age 45, but that’s exactly what the wife and mother of five is doing as she immerses herself in an accelerated program to earn her Bachelors of Science in Nursing.
Hay didn’t always want to work in the medical field. In fact, she spent years teaching kindergarten and preschool. It wasn’t until she faced cancer for a second time that she took an interest in pursuing a career in nursing.
Doctors diagnosed Hay with cervical cancer in 2012 when she was 37 weeks pregnant. Within a week of her diagnosis, she gave birth via cesarean section, kissed her baby and was immediately whisked away to undergo a full hysterectomy and surgery to remove the tumor.
At that time, it didn’t look like the cancer had spread, so she did not receive chemotherapy or radiation. The Hay family moved to Florida a short while later and she began seeing doctor’s at Moffitt Cancer Center for surveillance. About a year and a half after her first diagnosis, the cancer came back with a vengeance. This time, Hay needed more aggressive treatment, which included chemotherapy, radiation and internal radiation.
During her treatment, she met Lorry Lewis, a nurse in Moffitt’s Radiation Oncology Department. The two quickly hit it off and Hay often says Lewis was her guardian angel. She really developed an interest in how Lewis cared for her and the other patients and was inspired to go back to school to earn a degree in nursing.
Now in remission, Hay is close to hitting the five-year mark associated with long-term survival. Though she is still under surveillance at Moffitt, she hopes to return one day in a different role. She just finished her first nursing exam, aspiring to work beside Lewis and those who took such good care of her.