Cancer Patient Turned Oncology Nurse: a Positive Attitude No Matter What

Diagnosed with cancer at age 24, Lindsey Freeland Gold turns life around — she now cares for cancer patients at Roswell.

By Jana Eisenberg

Lindsey Freeland Gold was in college, studying for a degree in fine arts, when, at 24, she was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Since that surreal day over 10 years ago, the young woman has healed, matured and completely changed her life.

She now holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, and is a registered nurse specializing in oncological care at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. It’s the same hospital where she went through treatment, and where she received the welcome news that she was in remission.

Those times and that experience gave her a variety of motivations for wanting to become a nurse, as well as a unique understanding of what her patients may or may not need.

When she thinks about those times, she remembers the shock, the difficulty of grasping that her life was suddenly and literally threatened.

“At that age, you don’t think about a cancer diagnosis,” said Gold. “I had ignored symptoms — when you get the diagnosis and your plan of what you have to do to save your life, your life turns upside down all at once. You follow the plan…but the loss of control is crazy.”

The best piece of advice came from her aunt. “She said it is so important to stay positive,” said Gold. “I said, ‘What if there are some days when I don’t feel like being positive?’ She just said it’s so important no matter what. So I don’t know how; all the information you are given feels overwhelming, and sometimes it seemed impossible, but thinking positive became the way I dealt with things.”

An example she gives when she learned that her treatment would cause hair loss. “I thought when I lost my hair, I’d lose my identity,” she said. “When you lose your hair, people look at you like you are sick; they feel bad for you. My choice was to wear wigs all the time — sometimes fun ones, like bright pink. They would make me smile, and would make other people smile. It was one thing that I could control.”

After eight months of chemotherapy, and a month of radiation, she achieved remission.

The whole experience was life-changing, and caused her to undertake deep reflection. “I wanted to do the most with my life,” she said. “I thought a lot about how great my nurses had treated me during such a terrifying time. I wanted to make other patients feel the way they made me feel. I had never considered nursing at all, but now it’s completely the right fit.”

She’s been a nurse at Roswell for about four years. While she shares her story with patients, she does so with sensitivity, and only when appropriate. “I usually feel it out; I’ll share if it’s somebody I’ve met a few times, and we get talking,” she said. “Especially younger people who I can relate to from what I went through, and if they seem very afraid.”

“I know which treatments made me feel certain ways, what treatments made me feel better. A patient may tell me that they feel like crap and that I don’t get it. I’ll say, ‘I do get it.’ When they know I’ve been through it, it can help me connect with someone who might be feeling physically sick or emotionally overwhelmed. It’s rewarding to connect on that level, and to inspire hope,” added Gold.

The nurse oncologist says that not everyone needs to hear about her personal experience. “Patients are going through so much — I don’t want to take away from anything they’re experiencing, and also want to give them the attention they need. Some don’t have emotional support and comfort while they’re going through chemo,” she said.

In addition to working as a nurse, giving comfort and care with an extraordinary attitude, Gold also does volunteer work and fundraising for the causes of both finding a cure for cancer, and supporting patients who are going through it.

“With Camp Good Days, we do things like take sick kids to concerts — you’d be surprised to see little kids who had chemo that day; they’re exhausted, but up and dancing and having a great time,” she marveled. “And we’ve raised thousands of dollars through the Ride for Roswell. It’s an amazing event for my family. We celebrate life, and family members who have lost their lives. I never want to lose sight of what I went through and feel grateful for.”