Kristen Noles, a nurse manager at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Hospital, was breastfeeding her youngest child five years ago when she found a hardened area in her breast. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Noles embarked on a journey of aggressive cancer treatment. Now 40, and the mom of three kids aged 7, 11, and 15, Noles is using her personal battle with cancer to help other patients.
Noles’ mother, Madeline Harris, is an oncology nurse and the director of Birmingham’s Women’s Breast Health Fund which provides supportive care services for women with breast cancer. Her experience as an oncology nurse helped Noles immensely through her treatments, bringing the pair closer and making them determined to work together to make cancer patients’ lives fulfilling.
With no breast cancer risk factors or family history of the disease, Noles’ diagnosis was shocking to her, but she was determined to fight her cancer and embrace every moment of her life going forward. Despite her aggressive treatment approach, it was important for Noles to keep working. She would return to work as quickly as possible following her chemotherapy treatments and she finished her graduate studies during treatment despite a number of surgical and chemo complications.
Wanting to make her journey with battling cancer about other patients who she could positively impact, Harris told Parade.com, “We started thinking, How can we use this to further our understanding of what it’s like to be the family member of a patient.” Noles recalls how she would think of her patients on her toughest days, especially after she received some unsupportive reactions from coworkers and fellow healthcare providers after her hair fell out.
Now five years after her diagnosis, Noles hopes to share her experiences with other patients and use her experiences, both good and bad, in her approach to teaching as an adjunct faculty member at the UAB School of Nursing. In 2013, she became a co-founder of the Courage Network, a breast cancer survivor group made up of UAB staff who provide support to fellow employees facing their own cancer journeys. She wants all UAB employees to know they have a support system during hardships. Noles’ cancer experience also inspired her mother who has since awarded more than $1.3 million to area nonprofits to provide services for breast cancer survivors and their loved ones in her position as director of the Women’s Breast Health Fund.
We want to thank our Nurse of the Week, Kristen Noles, and her mother Madeline Harris, for their inspiring works as nurses to positively influence other healthcare providers and cancer patients in their own community and beyond.