Rona Linatoc, RN is a loving wife, mother and dedicated nurse of 18 years. She celebrated the last 5 years of her nursing career at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center's 5T Progressive Care Unit and Oncology department, where she helps patients with chemotherapy treatment and, more importantly, is there for them and their families as they get through some of the most difficult times of their lives.
Her vital role as a caregiver to people with cancer, however, quickly reversed when she became a patient.
"November 18, 2018, was the day when everything crumbled after hearing my physician utter the dreadful words that she found a tumor on my right breast," Rona recalls. "A biopsy later confirmed that it was cancer and I was in disbelief. Breaking the news to my family was distressing, but I assured them that everything will be OK as long as I undergo the proper treatment at this early stage."
With all of the fear and uncertainty that can come with a diagnosis, Rona held on to one thing: her faith. The support she received from her friends, family and Sharp colleagues lifted the heavy weight from her shoulders, as she became the patient she once cared for as an oncology nurse.
"I would think to myself, 'How ironic is it that I am administering chemotherapy to my patients when I myself am sick?'" says Rona.
Though her daily routine was to come into the hospital for work, the first time she was ever admitted as a patient was when she came in for a double mastectomy, a procedure to remove the breast tissue, which most women at very high risk choose to have. Chemotherapy followed her surgery and, because she works firsthand with patients with cancer, she knew what the side effects and symptoms would be.
"I was in the hospital almost every other week," says Rona. "It was very tiring and, even when depression was creeping in, the support of my family and friends kept me going. I knew I could not let them down. I took everything one day at a time and before I knew it, I was in remission."
Rona enjoying some vacation time with her family in San Francisco.
While she remained positive throughout her physical and emotional journey, Rona emphasizes that her personal experience as a patient made her an even better nurse than she was before. Being a cancer survivor came with new perspective.
"I was very excited to return to work because nursing is something that makes me feel good about myself," says Rona. "I have learned to empathize with my patients more and be tolerant of small things that I cannot change. I can say that I am more appreciative and grateful of life. Cancer taught me lessons to be a better person."
With breast cancer being the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., Rona is a strong advocate for early detection through mammograms and self-examinations. She encourages others - both men and women- to make their health a priority. Identifying health issues early and not delaying treatment can significantly improve one's quality of life and treatment outcomes.
Rona hopes to instill courage and inspire others diagnosed with cancer to never give up. She lives by this quote from motivational speaker Sonia Ricotti: "Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what will be."