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Cancer Survivor Story - Claudia Boudreaux

When you think “mid-life crisis,” a complete career change may not be the first thing to come to mind. Little did Claudia Boudreaux know that starting nursing school at age 40 was just the beginning of an unlikely turn of events.

Claudia noticed a lump in her breast, and deep down knew something was probably going on, but she waited until she was all set in her first nursing job and switched to a new insurance to get it checked out.

She had a mammogram and an ultrasound first, then a biopsy. She remembers asking the tech to see the images and “knew it wasn’t pretty.” After the biopsy, Claudia knew something was wrong as soon as the radiologist came in the room. “I said now I know you can’t tell me, but are your findings consistent with cancer? I remember her saying that she would be highly surprised if it wasn’t.”

She was 42, and the diagnosis was stage 3B breast cancer.

It was a large tumor that had spread to the lymph node, which meant multiple treatments to attack the cancer. Chemotherapy was first, then surgery with reconstruction, followed by 32 rounds of radiation. The radiation caused issues with healing from the reconstruction surgery, so she opted for a mastectomy. Claudia says she went back and forth on the decision but ultimately decided to focus on gaining strength and mobility and not continuing to be uncomfortable and fight against the difficult surgery recovery.

She started treatment in July 2016, about a month before she’d lose everything in the August 2016 flooding that affected many areas of south Louisiana. Despite every hurdle thrown her way, Claudia says “I was going to show cancer that I was the bigger bi**h!” So onward she went, continuing her job as a nurse at Baton Rouge General. On her “feel-good” week, she’d work as much as possible because that’s what made her feel the most normal.

Not long before switching to nursing, Claudia and her husband had made a pledge to be healthier and go to the gym regularly. Once she was diagnosed, she started eating all the superfoods she could and educated herself on nutrition.

After treatment she wanted to get back on track, but there were challenges, as her body had gone through a lot, like the neuropathy in her hands and feet, nausea, and range of motion issues. But, she knew that after chemo and radiation, continuing to do cardio and weight training would be even more important to keep bones and heart healthy.

Claudia was unsure about going back to the gym, so started first with physical therapy at BRG’s Lymphedema Clinic. Lymphedema is a buildup of fluid under the skin that can cause painful swelling, especially in the arms, and is a common side effect from breast cancer surgery. She went for several weeks and says the exercises and stretches – which she still does almost daily -- helped tremendously.

On top of all the physical elements, Claudia says she “had to learn the new me -- who I was as a person, how my body would be,” and that in itself was a journey. She’s happy to report that she is stronger now because she’s lifting more and has learned to take breaks when her body is telling her to.

When Claudia started nursing, she was adamant about not wanting to do oncology nursing, but when a daytime position opened up in 2019, she decided to give it a try – and hasn’t looked back. “I’ve been able to be a powerful force for my patients because of what I’ve gone through,” she says.

She sees patients in some of their darkest moments, so she gives them all of her positive energy and tells them to make sure to laugh every day to help keep their fight alive.

Claudia says for many patients, there are things they don’t want to tell their family or emotions they don’t want their family to see, because they don’t want them to worry or be scared. As their nurse, Claudia is there for her patients to let those emotions out when their family is not around. And then she works with families to find the best ways to be helpful and to communicate better.

When she was first diagnosed, Claudia says she was stoic and didn’t share with many people, but one 4-minute Facebook video later, and the floodgates opened, bringing with it so much love, prayers and positivity. She’s an open book now, and as a survivor, sharing her story helps so many people around her.