Each year in the United States, nearly 240,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the fall of 2013, Dr. Kathy McKinnon, associate professor of nursing at Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA), was met with this reality.
Dr. McKinnon was working on her master’s in Advanced Holistic Nursing at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) when she received the life altering news that she had breast cancer. She went to the doctor for her annual appointment, and they discovered three nodules in her breasts. After she pushed to get a biopsy, the doctors discovered the nodules were cancerous.
“If I did not advocate for myself to get that biopsy, the outcome would have been very different,” she said. “If you have any concerns, feel any suspicious nodules or have any pain in the breast, request further testing. It saved my life.”
After receiving the diagnosis, in an instant, her life was completely altered – her immediate thoughts went straight to her son, and how she could not bear the thought of leaving him behind.
“The first thing that crossed my mind was, ‘Am I going to die? I need to see my son graduate high school and watch him walk across the stage,’” she said. “Every phase that I survived was another celebration of life.”
After discussing treatment plans with her doctors, Dr. McKinnon made the decision to have a double mastectomy. She had the procedure during the Christmas break of her master’s program.
“I still clearly remember the day the nurse came to my home to take my bandages off,” said Dr. McKinnon. “My son had just come home from school, and I was just sitting in front of the mirror crying. He knocked on the door and wrapped me in a hug, telling me I was still the most beautiful mommy he had ever seen.”
Miraculously, despite seemingly insurmountable setbacks, Dr. McKinnon was able to continue doing her master’s program while receiving treatment for breast cancer. She was assigned to a clinical rotation at a breast cancer center, and during treatment, she would go downstairs to do radiation in between getting her clinical hours for school. She also received numerous scholarships, allowing her to complete the program.
In 2015, Dr. McKinnon came to PBA as an adjunct professor, and in December of 2020 she graduated from PBA with a Doctor of Nursing Practice in Executive Leadership. She now uses her story to minister to others who are going through similar circumstances, offering them a glimmer of hope.
“I want to care for and love the people that God has put in my path,” she said. “I just want them to know their value, who they are in Christ, and how much God loves them.”
She explained how her trials gave her a renewed perspective on life, and she feels that she is living out her calling as a professor at PBA. She has a heart for equipping nursing students to be servant-leaders in their field.
“Life is such a gift. My advice to others would be to be grateful for every single day,” said Dr. McKinnon. “Regardless of the circumstance or outcome, remember that God is faithful, and He is never going to abandon you.”
To learn more about PBA’s School of Nursing, visit https://www.pba.edu/academics/schools/nursing/.
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