Nurse, breast cancer survivor educating others
May 3, 2023 — DENTON — Neither PhD candidate Tracy Tyner nor her doctor were too worried when a new mass was discovered on an MRI. Tyner, a nurse practitioner, had been doing everything right: remaining vigilant, scheduling checkups, undergoing biopsies. She was staying on top of it.
Then, the radiologist called.
Despite being a healthcare professional, Tyner still reacted the way she believes most people probably do.
“I heard ‘breast cancer’ and then all I heard was ‘blah, blah, blah,’” Tyner said. “I was really in shock. Is this really happening?”
Tyner has a strong family history of breast cancer. She lost her mother to it. With that in mind, she was scheduling regular screenings and had multiple precautionary biopsies. She had even considered a double mastectomy as a preventative measure. Once she was diagnosed, her path was clear.
“That made the decision for me. I was out immediately. I said, ‘Cut them off. I’m done,’”
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2017. In January 2018, she underwent a double mastectomy with flat closure, addressing the cancer but removing the option of breast reconstruction. In 2019, she enrolled to get her PhD in Nursing Science.
“I knew from Day One exactly what I wanted to do my research on,” Tyner said.
Her research is on pre- and post-mastectomy experiences of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. She advocates for breast cancer awareness and promotes educational initiatives to improve breast cancer surgical decision making.
While Tyner’s procedure went well and she is now cancer free, she found a flat closure community online of women who had experiences altogether different. Many had experienced negative surgical outcomes. Some had their preference for flat closure pushed aside to encourage breast reconstruction. Others were left with excess skin against their wishes to leave open the possibility for reconstruction.
“I was on these groups with women supporting women going through this experience. They would post pictures of themselves, and I would think ‘These are really bad outcomes,’” Tyner said. “I was just appalled at some of the cases. Their decisions weren’t getting respected. As a nurse, I thought, ‘How do I address this problem?’”
Overall, one in three women who undergo breast reconstruction will have some sort of complication. The risks led Tyner to choose flat closure for herself, but her discovery of this community of women disappointed in their surgical outcomes clarified Tyner’s research decision.
A Virginia Chandler Dykes Scholarship recipient, Tyner dug into her doctoral research while managing her career as an acute care nurse practitioner in the surgical-trauma intensive care unit at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
She did both her job and her PhD through COVID. The days were hard. Tyner would often be the go-between for families and patients.
“That was pretty intense for me. Those days were tough. It was exhausting, but you go to work and you do the job. You care for the patients,” Tyner said. “When I came home, I took off the scrubs, threw them on the pile, put my pajamas on, popped down in front of my computer and did the assignments and things I needed to do.”
She did it at a high level. Tyner published five articles, with two additional manuscripts under review, had six abstracts accepted for poster presentations, published an article in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, wrote a blog for Cancer.net, and will be presenting her dissertation research at an international nursing conference in Montreal, Canada, in July.
The research she has done is just the beginning for her.
“I’m just starting. I have a research trajectory that will last me the rest of my life probably,” Tyner said.
For now, she is focusing on educating others and making sure the full gamut of information on mastectomies is readily available to surgeons, nurses and patients.
“The goal is to get education into the hands of people who can influence outcomes. Anytime, anywhere. If they’re willing to listen, I’m willing to talk,” Tyner said. “When I start talking, people are just shocked. They’re just appalled that these things are happening. People don’t realize it. It’s a hidden population.”
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Page last updated 3:11 PM, May 3, 2023