Alanna Best lives in three-month increments. There's no other way to approach life when you've successfully beaten two primary cancers in the last two years, but understand the next bout might not end the same way.
Two years ago, Alanna, a Registered Nurse at Lions Gate Hospital, was diagnosed and treated for an aggressive form of breast cancer. A scan during her recovery discovered a mass in her bowels. The cancer had metastasized. She had a bowel reduction last September.
Every three months, the veteran nurse has a date with her oncologist to make sure she's cancer-free.
“I don't know what the three month check-up will bring up," she said, admitting to walking on eggshells waiting for the results. “But I do know it will come back and it will be in an area they can't do anything for."
Despite the grim reality, last spring, Alanna, 44, had made a remarkable recovery. She was cancer free and ready to return to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at LGH and the bedside of her patients.
While she was going through her own health-care journey, the world had quickly changed. The COVID-19 pandemic had swept around the world leaving her with a difficult decision. Her health battles made her particularly susceptible to the virus, and her role in the ICU would place her right in the thick of pandemic care. She was even granted permission by her doctor to stay on the sidelines until the virus is gone.
But she didn't give it too much thought. Yes, Alanna was nervous about returning to work, but she wanted to get back. And she wasn't going to live in fear. After a discussion with her husband and an understanding of all the precautions and procedures being taken by Vancouver Coastal Health and staff at the hospital to stay safe, she returned to the ICU in May – in the middle of the pandemic.
“I knew things were really put in place [at LGH] and that actually gave me the comfort walking in," she said. “I actually feel fairly safe and comfortable with it. Vancouver Coastal [Health] has been amazing at keeping us safe.
While Alanna's happy to be back caring for others, it hasn't been easy. She still suffers from “chemo brain," a side effect of the treatment that often leaves survivors with memory issues or in a fog. She does take a little longer to make connections and will spend more time looking things up while at work.
But Alanna's life circumstances have also given her a profound understanding of her patients and what they and their families are going through. She's been able to connect with them and share her own experience.
“Anything I can do to help take some of that pain away and make their journey easier, because I know what it's like to be in that bed and to be that patient too," Alanna said. It's definitely helped the way that I nurse now."
It's also given Alanna a perspective on life that only someone who has defied the odds and beaten a dreaded disease twice would really understand.
“It makes you see things differently," she said. “You see the beauty every day in something and you appreciate friends and family and those connections so much more."