Nursing Student Overcomes Cancer

Jensine Duquilla’s Journey Takes Her from ADN Student to Oncology Nurse by Way of Touro’s MSN Program as She Strives to Make a Difference in Health Care

October 26, 2023
Master of Science of Nursing student Jensine Duquilla

Jensine Duquilla always knew she wanted to be a nurse.

Her mother was a nurse and raised two children while caring for her own sick mother, completely on her own. For Duquilla, there was no doubt that she wanted to help care for other people, just like her mom. Although she got into nursing inspired by the strength of her mother, she ended up on a path carved by her own resilience.

In 2019, after a lot of hard work, Duquilla was accepted into the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program at Los Medanos College.

“I was there for about three weeks, when I started feeling these pains in my shoulder and really bad chest pain,” Duquilla says. “Each time my heart beat it, it felt like somebody was literally squeezing it super, super tightly.”

Duquilla was dismissed by her primary care physician many times with a diagnosis of heartburn, muscle strain, or other common ailments, told to take over-the-counter medications and wait for it to get better.

Cancer Diagnosis Comes with Aid of Nurse Practitioner

It wasn’t until Duquilla saw a nurse practitioner, who ordered a chest X-ray, that the real cause was uncovered. After several scans and biopsies, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, papillary thyroid cancer, and a compression fracture in her neck (C7).

Duquilla resisted dropping out of nursing school, feeling like she had worked too hard and finally achieved step one of her goals. Eventually she had no choice, and dropped out when she was hospitalized.

“I didn’t think it would be too bad, but when I was in the ICU, I had all these arterial lines and everything hurt, like even the smallest crinkle in the sheets was so painful,” Duquilla says. “I had a really good support system, and a lot of people visited me during the hospital stay. I think that kind of kept me going throughout all of that.”

Duquilla noticed that on the journey to heal, it was the nurse practitioners who supported her the most. They were the ones who believed that something was wrong and ordered the tests that revealed the cancer, gave her emotional support when she needed it most, and shared their own experiences with her about their own fight with cancer.

That kinship and kindness kept Duquilla going: She needed compassion and the belief that she could get through it, especially once the pandemic lockdown happened.

Those moments convinced Duquilla to keep fighting, even when the wildfires and COVID-19 lockdown made her in-person support group impossible. She made personal sacrifices, such as preemptively shaving her head to cope with the emotional toll of chemotherapy.

Despite the loneliness of chemotherapy in those conditions, she still had her oncology nurse practitioners to champion her fight. It was those interactions that braced her conviction to not only complete the nursing degree she had started, but then also get a Master of Science of Nursing (MSN) at Touro University California and become an oncology nurse.

Passion for Nursing Started Began in Her Teens

“After high school I knew I wanted to become a nurse,” Duquilla says. She originally imagined working as a nurse at 23. Cancer changed those plans, and she didn’t get her nursing degree until she turned 29. “Life kind of had other plans, but I was on the path that I was meant to be on.”

Despite the obstacles, Duquilla’s determination and perspective on adversity allowed her to thrive and grow. The struggle changed her in many ways: She has a whole different kind of confidence than before, but even more importantly, she found her calling. She now works as a registered nurse in the oncology unit at John Muir Health Walnut Creek Medical Center, the same place where she once received cancer treatments.

Duquilla says working in oncology requires a special kind of person. She believes everything in her life has led her to this point.

“If it wasn’t for cancer, I wouldn’t be equipped to handle what I’m doing now,” Duquilla says. “I am A LOT stronger and capable than I knew!”

Duquilla’s story highlights her resilience, determination, and commitment to making a positive impact in the world of health care, despite the significant challenges she has faced. Her journey from aspiring nurse to cancer survivor to registered nurse in oncology serves as an inspiration to others. Her goal is to use her experiences to inspire and support others who face similar challenges.

“You know, nothing can really stop me at this point,” Duquilla says. “Cancer didn’t stop me. All the adversity and the hardships that I deal with now, just don’t compare to what I went through with cancer. Everything else is something small I can get through.”