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A Nurse’s Cancer Journey Prompts New Career Path, Passion for Screenings

A Nurse’s Cancer Journey Prompts New Career Path, Passion for Screenings

A Nurse’s Cancer Journey Prompts New Career Path, Passion for Screenings

Oct 11, 2021
Sarah Keeton with her sonsSarah Keeton, R.N., was 32 when diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.

Sarah Keeton was a 32-year-old neonatal nurse when she found a lump in her breast. She was also the mother of two young children. Her subsequent diagnosis and treatment at The Frank and Edith Scarpa Regional Cancer Pavilion at Inspira Medical Center Vineland changed her life and, in time, the life of hundreds of South Jersey residents. It was Sarah's experience as a cancer patient that led her to a position as a case manager for the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection (NJCEED) program. Inspira Health administers NJCEED in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.
 
The compassion, empathy and collaborative approach of the cancer team made a lasting impression on Sarah and prompted her to change her focus as a nurse. Sarah recalls how her very first interaction at the cancer pavilion was with medical assistant Erica Sosa, now a practice manager for the surgical oncology office. This brief encounter convinced Sarah she was in good hands.
 
"I remember Erica being my first interaction at the cancer center. She was nothing short of amazing," Sarah recalled. "The staff was great, and so kind. When I was diagnosed, I felt like they took my hand – they were going to walk this journey with me." 
 
Sarah was also grateful for how the cancer team "took away some of the burden" by guiding her every step of the way. They made her journey easier.
 
"From the moment I walked in the cancer center, I never felt alone,” said Sarah. "They made my appointments [for me]. Everyone is so professional. I felt so at ease." 
 
It was during a visit to the radiation therapy department that she asked one of the therapists about the type of training she had. This got Sarah thinking about how she could transfer her training and skills to the field of oncology. 
 
Sarah feels honored to be working in the same cancer center where she received her care. As a case manager for NJCEED, she assists people with making appointments for mammograms and other cancer screenings. She also follows up with patients who may need additional testing or treatment. Gentle reminders are another important part of her job. If someone has been given a script for a screening or follow up, but not followed through, they can expect to get a call from Sarah.  
 
To date, Sarah has helped and encouraged hundreds of people to get mammograms. And each interaction is personal. For every phone call Sarah makes, question she answers and fear she addresses, she draws upon her own story.
 
"If a person is symptomatic or if there is a concern, I'm quick to share that I had breast cancer and how important it is to follow up," Sarah shared. “I tell them I understand the fear and that I was treated here. I'm proud that I was treated here and can help others." 
 
If she senses that a patient doesn't feel the urgency to get a needed follow up study, Sarah shares that a timely imaging study potentially saved her life. And she practices what she preaches. She gets screened every six months, which is the recommendation for someone with her history. She understands that it can be easy to put off a screening, but her clinical training reminds her why it’s important to stay on schedule.
 
With help from Sarah, hundreds of people have signed up for mammograms. And each day she goes to work, she is grateful for the opportunity to assist more people to get cancer screenings. Helping others find cancer early, when it's easier to treat, is more than a job for Sarah. It's a passion born out of her own life experience.  
 
"My journey was given to me so that I could help others in the realm of cancer."

Topics: Cancer Care