Cancer did not deter dream

Published 11:03 am Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Sarah Long of Lunenburg County, was among about two dozen students who graduated from Southside Virginia Community College’s (SVCC) Nursing Program in December.

Long, 34, has experienced her education as both a nurse and a patient as she grappled with a breast cancer diagnosis that resulted in a double mastectomy and extensive treatment while in the nursing program.

She said the diagnosis was unusual both because of her age and because of how it was diagnosed.

“Most people, for insurance purposes, you don’t start doing mammograms until you’re 40,” Long said. “So I’m actually pretty young.”

Long said the process started in December 2016 when she fell on her home porch and dislocated and tore a ligament in her knee.

“The swelling wouldn’t go down, and my orthopedic wasn’t sure why,” Long said. “I dislocated the knee and tore a ligament but the swelling just kept increasing. When he drew my lab, my platelet count was super high, and that’s one of the signs of cancer. So we had a full body scan and that’s when he found it.”

She said the means of finding the cancer has surprised even doctors.

“When I originally went to see my oncologist, my cancer doctor, he said, ‘I found it how?’” Long said. “I said, ‘well, apparently God knew that I really wanted to go to nursing school and had a plan for me.’”

She had been enrolled at SVCC at the time of the diagnosis, having enrolled in August 2016.

“I had my mastectomy on my spring break,” Long said. She said it was three weeks before she recovered, and for a while after surgery, she brought a pillow to class to help her breathe and said she could not move her arms.

“It was quite hard. It was quite challenging,” Long said, who noted she also wore the knee brace from her knee injury and had drainage tubes attached to the surgery site to prevent infection.

She said she will continue treatments for the next 15 years.

Long said in spite of the painful treatments, she wanted to continue her education.

“I partnered with Southside, I told them I didn’t want to stop,” Long said.

Long said she was surrounded by a supportive group of professors and students.

“They would carry my books, or if I didn’t feel well and had to go get sick they would take notes,” Long said. “Whatever they could to help.”

Long, who has a son who attends Victoria Elementary School, said people in the Lunenburg community have shown boundless support throughout her illness.

“When I was diagnosed, everyone came together to help,” Long said. “Whether it was making sure that my son’s lunch was packed because I couldn’t move. Things like that, the teachers would look out for my son.”

She said prior to nursing school, she had worked as a medical assistant and dialysis technician at Liberty Dialysis in South Hill. She said her diagnosis has motivated her to help others who are facing similar illnesses.

“I was lucky because I made it out alive,” Long said. “When I was doing my treatments I would run into many faces that their prognoses wasn’t as good as mine, and it was heartbreaking.”

Just recently, Long said she helped organize a fundraiser for Hudson Armstrong, one, and his family at the Victoria Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) building on New Year’s Eve. Hudson was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, which affects his breathing, and funds from the event went toward his treatment.

“He always smiles,” Long said. “He’s so cute.”

“It just touched my heart that so many people were praying for me and helping me that I wanted to help somebody else,” Long said.