MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when many things come wrapped in pink as a reminder. For survivors of the disease, no reminders are ever needed of their battle — it’s a journey that never really ends and truly changes everything.
Gay Ensey, Misty Vaughn and Vasana Rattanarath are all nurses at Ascension St. Thomas Rutherford. Their blue scrubs give them away but it’s their conversation that reveals a deeper connection. They are part of a sisterhood of breast cancer survivors, each with their own story.
Ensey's journey started with an “annoying feeling” and the realization she missed her yearly mammogram.
"If you had asked me, I would have said I never missed a year — but life is busy," Ensey said.
For Vaughn, she discovered a lump during a self-breast exam at just 38 years old.
"Everyone said I was too young, there's no way this is cancer… you don't have a family history," Vaughn said.
And at 9 weeks pregnant, Rattanarath got the news she had stage two breast cancer.
"We fought. We moved forward with the treatment. We did a lumpectomy, and I started my chemotherapy treatments immediately," Rattanarath said.
Each woman faced obstacles in her fight.
"It's not a cancer where you have your surgery and it's all tied up in a little bow and you're done," said Vaughn.
But there were victories too — even the birth of a healthy baby!
“My daughter is 7 years old today. Her name is Hope," Rattanarath said.
Now years later and cancer-free, each woman says she was deeply changed by the disease. Not just physically, but as a caregiver too. Ensey said she has a new awareness when she sees her patients.
"I had an army with me. I had my family, the ladies on my floor fed me for four weeks. It was just amazing. But we have patients that just don't have that, so that's our role," Ensey said.
For Vaughn, it’s a deeper connection as she sends patients into surgery.
"Just being able to hold someone's hand and say I know you are getting ready to go through probably the hardest thing you've ever been through but there is another side, there is a silver lining - you have this beautiful perspective on life," Vaughn said.
For Rattanarath, it’s the opportunity to share her story and be the face of encouragement.
"It helps inspire them, I hope — give them that ounce of hope that they can fight their journey," Rattanarath said.
As both a nurse, patient, and survivor now, each woman stresses the importance of early detection, listening to your body and getting a mammogram every year.