By Steve Blanchard - February 18, 2020
Despite the odds, Patty Jauregui achieved her dream in December and graduated from Pasco-Hernando State College as a registered nurse. It’s an impressive feat for anyone. But for Jauregui, the journey was a little more challenging. After all, she had to overcome kidney failure and breast cancer before walking the graduation stage.
“I had a kidney transplant at 15 and seven years later, in 2011, I found out that the transplant had failed,” Jauregui said. “At that same time I found a lump on my breast and told a nurse. She and the doctor sent me for an ultrasound and a mammogram, and it came back as abnormal.”
Two days after her tests, Jauregui learned that at age 22 she had stage 4 breast cancer.
“When I found out that the kidney had failed, I was heartbroken,” she said. “But I had been through this once and I knew I could get through it again. When I was diagnosed with cancer, it was just devastating. I was in shock and I tried to fight back tears. It was just so much to take in.”
Just weeks after returning to dialysis to keep her kidneys functioning, Jauregui was referred to Moffitt Cancer Center and met medical oncologist Dr. Roohi Ismail-Khan. Jauregui learned that she had to beat the cancer before she could be eligible for another kidney transplant.
“I underwent chemotherapy for six months,” Jauregui said. “It caused me to get sinus headaches and my hair started falling out. That wasn’t too bad and my friends shaved my head for me. I was lucky. I didn’t have to undergo radiation or surgery.”
After her treatments, doctors declared Jauregui cancer free in 2012. While she celebrated that news, she knew she was still in need of a kidney transplant.
“I learned a long time ago to never give up,” Jauregui said. “When I was in high school I had to go to dialysis three days a week for four hours. I was only able to attend school for two full days each week.”
In 2004 she received her kidney transplant and remained focused on her studies. She graduated high school with honors in 2007 and set her sights on a career as a nurse.
“Since I was a teen, I knew I wanted to be a nurse,” she said. “The compassionate care I received inspired me to pursue this career. I felt that one day I would be able to help others by sharing my experience and touching many lives. That’s honestly what kept me going.”
It was while pursuing her associate degree that Jauregui learned of her cancer diagnosis and that the kidney she had received years earlier had failed. She took a break from her studies to focus on her health.
After she was declared cancer-free, she went back to college.
“At that time I didn’t qualify for a new kidney because you have to wait five years after cancer treatment to make sure you remain cancer free,” she said. “But I was able to go back to college.”
Jauregui kept a busy schedule, too. Each morning after dialysis, she would return home to catch up on some sleep. Then she’d work a part time job at a daycare before going to classes.
In 2015 she earned her associate degree and graduated with honors.
Two years later, in October 2017, Jauregui received more good news — she was getting a new kidney.
“The month before I learned about the kidney, I was accepted to nursing school,” she said. “The new kidney was transplanted and I started nursing school in January 2018. I graduated in December 2019.”
Jauregui has been cancer free for eight years, and so far her transplanted kidney is doing its job. That allows Jauregui to continue her education. This summer she hopes to attend the University of South Florida to earn her Bachelor of Science in nursing.
“My dream is to work alongside the Moffitt team and to be able to touch the lives of cancer patients the way the nurses there touched my life,” she said. “After going through cancer myself and experiencing the treatment at Moffitt, I think I found where I want to be. I want to be an oncology nurse where I was treated.”
While she’s not an employed nurse yet, she still wants to offer encouragement to patients experiencing devastating diagnoses and long-term treatments. And her message is simple: Never give up.
“Life may knock you down, but you must get back up, dust yourself off and keep on going,” Jauregui said. “No matter what they may be going through, they can push through, have faith and never lose hope. I believe that having a positive outlook helps tremendously with the healing process.”
A note from Dr. Ismail-Khan
Although stage 4 breast cancer is not curable, there are rare cases where the patient has an amazing response to therapy and is still disease free many years later. Although not typical, Dr. Ismail-Khan says Patty was one of those very few and rare cases. Because she had stage 4 disease she did not have surgery or radiation. “She did present with stage 4 disease and was treated with chemotherapy and then had a complete response,” she said. She is followed by Dr. Costa in the Breast Program now who continues to monitor her and she has been thankfully disease free many years later. We hope that she remains disease free forever, but we will continue to keep a close eye on her. We are ecstatic about her success and admire her ability to continue to work hard through everything she has been through.