Amanda Young is a nurse but she often sounds a lot like a teacher. In her job as nurse practitioner at the Marshall Cancer Care Center, she feels a responsibility to educate people on the importance of prevention with regular mammograms and self-exams. That’s because with cancer, the best way to a happy ending is to get an early diagnosis.
“The better we’ve gotten with screening, recognizing and finding those cancers earlier then certainly the better outcomes people are going to have,” she said. “If something tiny is found, having a lumpectomy versus a mastectomy is much easier to recover from when it’s an option.”
October is designated as Breast Cancer Awareness month to serve as a reminder to schedule a yearly mammogram. Young preaches that message all year long, as well as urging women to do monthly self-exams. Get to know your body well is her mantra.
“You know yourself better than anybody,” she said. “I always remind people to be vigilant and be aware. If you notice any changes, let your doctor know. Get your mammogram but also know your body.”
It’s also important to be aware of any family history with cancer. If you’ve had multiple cases on one side of the family, let your doctor know. If you had a family member diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age, that’s definitely a risk factor to be aware of. It’s crucial to pass the information down to your children. Men also need to be aware of the risk of male breast cancer.
During this nerve-wracking pandemic, another lesson Young instills is not to put your health in jeopardy just because you’re afraid of catching something.
“Don’t delay preventative treatment,” she warned. “Don’t postpone check-ups and follow-ups out of fear of going to the hospital during a pandemic. That can cause you to become even sicker. Don’t be scared to see your doctor for your check-ups when you’re supposed to.”
Decided career path while grandmother fought cancer
Young knew she wanted to pursue a career in oncology after seeing her precious grandmother go through cancer treatments. Seeing a family member’s battle is often what drives those in oncology to the field.
“She’s really what got me interested in cancer,” Young said. “Taking her to treatments and doctors’ appointments while I was in nursing school is what really made me want to do oncology. A lot of us who work here have personal experiences with cancer.”
Young’s grandmother had multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in plasma cells and is not curable. It causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells. Young’s “Mimi” fought it for seven years and eventually passed away four years ago. The two were very close and shared some good times even during her sickness.
Nurse practitioners work closely with physicians
Young has worked as nurse practitioner at the Marshall Cancer Care Center for two and a half years. Before that she worked at UAB in hematology and oncology. She earned a nursing degree from Jacksonville State University and attended UAB for a nurse practitioner’s degree. A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has additional education and training in a specialty area. An oncology nurse practitioner works closely with physicians, surgeons and families to assist cancer patients with their treatment.
“I reinforce to patients what the doctors talk to them about,” she explained. “If they’re starting a new treatment, I help them to know what to expect and what things to call us about or to be alarmed about.”
Traci Stewart, Marshall Cancer Care Center’s executive director, describes Young’s role as a close collaboration with the medical oncologists/hematologists as a member of the patient’s health care team.
“She conducts patient assessments, assists patients with their care plans and orders diagnostic tests such as lab tests, x-rays, CT and PET scans,” Stewart said.” We are very fortunate to have such a knowledgeable and caring nurse practitioner. Amanda is well respected by the physicians she works with and by the patients she cares for. Amanda’s caring face and smile shines through her mask!”
For a patient with a new diagnosis, it’s a lot of information to take in during the first one or two visits. After they’ve had some time to process it, they come back for a follow-up with Young. She takes time to answer questions or concerns they may have. She’ll lay out a roadmap of what to expect for the journey ahead. If a patient calls in having issues with side effects from treatment, she takes care of them. She sees patients frequently throughout treatment and once they’re finished, she’ll do their follow-up appointments. Young’s patient load ranges from 10-15 per day. A large part of them are battling breast cancer. She loves the job.
“I think oncology is so rewarding,” she said. “The patients are very appreciative for what you’re doing for them. They’re in a very hard place. It’s scary even with a good prognosis. When you hear that word ‘cancer’ that’s very scary to people. I’m able to really get to know the patients because they come in often, especially the ones on chemotherapy. I get to connect with them. This place kind of becomes their second home. They become like family.”
Many patients grow so attached to the cancer center and its staff they return after finishing treatments in an effort to give back, whether that is volunteering, making a donation or just stopping by for a hug and to say thank you. Even when a patient passes away, their families often feel compelled to express their gratitude through some type of gift or gesture.
“That’s rewarding,” Young said.
Area blessed to have excellent cancer care locally
People in the area are very fortunate to have such a nice cancer treatment facility with a great team of caregivers and physicians, she said.
“Most small towns don’t have a place this nice,” she said. “It’s a blessing to have medical oncology and radiation oncology available so breast cancer patients can get everything done in one place. They can get chemo and radiation, endocrine therapy for five years at home. It’s just nice to have that. It makes it easy to coordinate care.”
When she’s not caring for patients, Young is spending time with her husband, Craig, who works at Southern Medical Equipment in Albertville, and their children Micah, 5, and Caroline, 2. The family lives in Young’s hometown of Gadsden. They hope to move to the Guntersville area eventually. The Youngs enjoy camping, hiking and fishing and are involved in the Church at Wills Creek.