As a nurse working in a hospital oncology and medical-surgical unit, Andrea Primeggia provided care for countless patients suffering from all forms of cancer. "It [cancer] was always in my head, and I would think, 'Will I get this?'" recalled the Farmingdale resident.
Then one day in 1994, the nurse herself became a patient with cancer - stage I "invasive infiltrating and intraductal carcinoma" of the right breast.
The view from the other side of the hospital gown was frightening. "When I was diagnosed, it was a traumatic experience, especially working with cancer patients and facing my own mortality," said Andrea, then 42.
A mastectomy, removal of a dozen lymph nodes and reconstructive breast surgery followed. After enduring six months of chemotherapy and all of the tough side effects, she developed lymphedema, swelling in her right arm and hand, sometimes a complication of lymph node removal. Besides the physical challenges of her treatment - "body changes" and a 20-pound weight gain due to pre-chemotherapy drugs - she experienced emotional after-effects.
"Emotionally, I was afraid of dying from the cancer or having a recurrence," said Andrea, now 66. But once she returned to work, she says, her patients were empathetic and supportive. She feels her cancer journey helped her become a "better support system" for her patients.
In 1999 she retired from nursing, and today she is a survivor for 24 years and shares her insights and experiences as a volunteer at a physical rehabilitation and lymphedema therapy center.