San Diego Health - Spring 2024


Prebys Cancer Center, on the campus of Scripps Mercy Hospital, San Diego, is part of Scripps Cancer Center.

TURNING PAIN into PURPOSE O’Connor le ft her job and started on a totally di ff erent journey—the journey to help others navigate the new world they unwillingly enter when they’re faced with a cancer diagnosis. While working through daily radiation therapy sessions, she tapped into the initial emotions she experienced from the fi rst day she heard the dreaded C word to determine how she could best be there for others battling the same emotions. “When I was diagnosed, cancer broke my heart. I was not angry, I was heartbroken. I felt like I had done everything right, but my body failed me, and my breast tried to kill me,” she says. “ Th at thought was so damning, and it kept me up so many nights. Th e word ‘cancer’ was in my name. Before, I was Kelly, and then I was ‘Kelly with Breast Cancer.’ When we’re young, we all believe to some degree that we’re going to live forever. We know we’re not, but a part of us still believes it. All of a sudden, that comfort was taken from me. Th ere was a reality that something was going to happen. Th at absolutely scared me and led to some very dark nights. My sensitive heart was absolutely crushed.” Tapping into those tough emotions gave Kelly a totally new perspective. “Cancer happened for me, not to me,” she says. “It made me a better person, a better woman and someone who genuinely loves life. Ultimately, what I learned is that my breast did not try to kill me, my body was telling me I needed medical care. Th at is an absolute gi ft . And I needed to fi nd a way to pay it forward.” Th at way started with becoming a volunteer at the Scripps Cancer Center. A few shi ft s a week, O’Connor helps out as needed, whether that’s cleaning up chemotherapy stations, transporting blood for infusions or sitting by a patient’s side o ff ering comfort and inspiration. In fact, she’s o ft en called upon by the infusion nurses to support patients who are having a particularly hard time that day.

As a volunteer, O'Connor supports some of the nursing staff who cared for her, including Emie Acebedo, RN; Dawn Horvatich, RN; and Shaunda McClung, RN.


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