Having faced her own health struggles for more than two decades, Jennifer Pellegrin learned early on how important it is to relate to your patients. Now, the 2022 West Coast University-Ontario graduate wants to help make meaningful change for them and others as an advocate for healthcare legislation.
“When patients know you can relate to them and you know what it feels like to be in that bed, it comforts them,” she said.
In 2020, Jennifer was diagnosed with both thyroid and ovarian cancer, and underwent several surgeries to remove the tumors.
“I had a partial thyroidectomy, and my left lobe and thyroid were removed,” Jennifer said. “They found a beefsteak tomato mass so big that it started growing and caused swallowing issues.”
Jennifer soon found out she had an aggressive form of thyroid cancer and had another part of her thyroid removed in December 2021. She began iodine radiation a few months later and hoped the worst had passed.
“I thought I was in the clear,” she said. “I was about two weeks shy of taking my nursing exit exam when I started having abdominal cramps.”
During her clinical rotations in mid-March, Jennifer remembered having to leave her site to drive to the emergency room within the same hospital. After undergoing more tests, a large mass was discovered on her right ovary. On April 29, Jennifer went into emergency surgery after finding the mass had doubled in size. It was then they discovered a small amount of ovarian cancer.
“I ended up getting my 35 staples from the surgery out and then taking my NCLEX the next day,” she said.
Throughout everything, Jennifer said she relied on her West Coast family.
“I’ve been blessed enough to have an amazing support system,” she said. “I have seven girls I keep in touch with who are more like sisters than friends… these were the friends who were crying with me, dropping off meals after the surgery, doing wound changes and helping me with everything related to school.”
Jennifer said she valued her education at WCU, but that it is the community she still leans on.
“I’m thankful for my education, but I think I’m more thankful and blessed for the friendships I’ve gained from West Coast University.”
After earning her bachelor of science in nursing from West Coast, Jennifer started mentoring people suffering from psoriasis, an issue she has dealt with for over 20 years.
Three years ago, she became involved with the National Psoriasis Foundation and last year NPF honored her their “Volunteer of the Year.” Jennifer said she enjoys being part of an organization offering resources to and sharing the stories of people with psoriasis.
This past year, she realized she also wanted to be part of change at the legislative level. On July 7, Jennifer spoke on the Senate floor via Zoom. She recalled feeling overwhelmed by the support of the 100 other psoriasis organizations that were online, calling it an “emotional experience.”
“All the support was overwhelming,” Jennifer said. “It’s a misunderstood disease and has a mental health aspect I wish was more addressed.”
On Oct. 9, the Health Care Coverage Bill was passed into law, bringing greater transparency to health insurance policies and covers all aspects of healthcare. Jennifer called it a win for anyone suffering from a chronic disease, such as Crohn’s, cancer, arthritis, or diabetes.
“Being able to say I was a part of that hasn’t fully hit me yet,” Jennifer said. “By advocating and raising awareness, it gives me purpose. This disease was given to me to give me a voice to get out there.”
Jennifer puts her trust in her WCU background, where she gained both the knowledge and distinction of a certified healthcare professional.
“I have the reputation and the respect of being a healthcare worker who lives with this disease and who is pushing and advocating,” she said. “We represent an alumni proud to be representatives of the WCU family, proud to be nurses and proud to take care of the communities we live in.”
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