They say that sometimes nurses are the hospital’s guardian angels. Think about it, they take care of patients, run around like maniacs attending to everyone’s needs, and pretty much run the hospital. If it wasn’t for them, doctors would never be able to complete a surgery alone. It’s impressive, very impressive. But, I have always wondered what happens when a nurse gets sick. Do they treat themselves, or do they go through the whole process like a “regular person” would?
Well, in this case, 22-year-old Chantal Smits realized she was suffering from a tumor after spending her working days caring for ill patients with brain tumors. Yes, Smits diagnosed her own brain tumor after spotting a poster at work. Told you, impressive.
Nurse Chantal Smits started suffering minor symptoms (such as headaches) in her first year as a nursing student in 2014. Her symptoms included drowsiness and exhaustion, even though she and would usually fall asleep at 8 p.m. every day as soon as her shift was over. But, being a nursing student, she saw it normal since she was working 40 hours a week and writing essays all weekend. She stated, “And in any case, all nurses are shattered half the time! It’s a hazard of the job.”
Smits took painkillers to ease the pain, thinking it wasn’t bad enough to see a doctor. Four years later, Smits was living with her boyfriend of two years and had qualified as a neurology anesthetic nurse at St. George’s Hospital in London, England. Basically, her daily shift included assisting surgeons operating on patients with brain tumors. But, by this time, she was suffering from severe headaches almost every day, taking four paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets daily to manage the pain.
In February 2018, Smits was reading a poster on the hospital wall, listing symptoms and signs of brain tumors in children and young people, realizing they resembled her own symptoms. She stated, “I thought: ‘Hang on a minute. Headaches, constant fatigue, occasional visual impairments — I have all those. Maybe I should go to the doctor just in case.’”
After speaking with her family doctor, she was sent for a non-urgent test and was referred to the same consult whom she worked with most days. Following a head MRI, doctors confirmed she had a large mass on her brain stem. She has since been diagnosed with a brain stem glioma tumor, which is currently incurable and inoperable.
Afraid of the size, Smits has had several more scan and is being monitored every three months. The tumor, luckily, is stable and is not currently growing, but because of the position of the brain stem, it cannot be biopsied. What does this mean? Unfortunately, nobody can tell her whether it is cancerous or not.
But, if the stem decides to grow throughout time, it would need chemo and radiotherapy, just like many of her brain tumor patients whom she works with on a daily basis. Smits is currently taking medication to manage her symptoms and is on a “wait and wait” policy regarding future treatment.
The nurse is currently receiving IV vitamin infusion and mistletoe injection to boost her immune function and is hoping to inspire others with brain tumors to continue to live their life rather than “just cope with it”. She is currently inspiring other by creating a brain tumor awareness campaign called HeadSmart, which encourage early diagnosis of brain tumors and is setting a personal target of raising $12,750 for the brain tumor charity. The HeadSmart campaign’s main goals are to save lives and reduce long-term disability by ringing down diagnosis times.