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On the other side of care — a nurse's journey with breast cancer

For more than two decades, Cleo Glover has used her skills, gifts and talents as a nurse to care for countless individuals in Hospital Galveston on the UTMB Health Galveston Campus.

“I’ve always had a particular liking for supporting this population,” she said, referring to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice patients cared for through the Correctional Managed Care component of UTMB Health. “They don’t have anyone to speak up on their behalf.”

Working her way up from nursing student all the way to nurse manager, Glover has seen a lot during her years of service, and the hospitable, caring spirit that makes her a great leader and caregiver extends far beyond her professional work.

“I’m the one who always hosts our family get-togethers, and this past holiday season was the first time I didn’t do our big family Christmas party,” she said, mentioning that Thanksgiving 2022 was the last big holiday she handled as hostess.

Her battle against breast cancer began just a few short months before that in August 2022.

“I was taking a shower and felt something,” she said. “It was pretty big, so I automatically called our clinic.

They couldn’t get me in until the end of the month. When I finally made it in and they felt the lump, they ordered the tests and the results came back positive for breast cancer.”

Glover’s ultimate diagnosis was a type of invasive ductal carcinoma stage II left breast cancer, and when she heard the news, all she could think was all the things she could have done to cause her to develop breast cancer.

“I started thinking about how I should have eaten better or exercised more, but my surgical oncologist Dr. [Colleen] Silva reassured me I didn’t do anything wrong,” Glover said, expressing gratitude for that reminder from her doctor.

Her chemotherapy treatments began shortly after that, and they took a toll on her. From fatigue to joint pain and nausea, Glover was feeling it all, and that’s exactly why she had to make the hard decision to take it easy during the 2022 holiday season.

“My fiancé and sons were informed, however, I really didn’t plan on telling the rest of my family until after the holidays were over, because I didn’t want to ruin the season for everyone with such sad news,” said the 49-year-old mother of four boys. “But, my oldest son was emotionally overwhelmed and broke down during the Thanksgiving holidays, so I had to go ahead and share with my remaining family and friends. I realized that my boys needed the support of our entire family.”

Upon sharing with her loved ones, Glover was surprised by the response and support she received.

“Honestly, it was challenging seeing people concerned about me, because I never stopped to think of how the news would impact others,” she said. “It really opened my eyes to see how many people cared about me and what they felt and thought about me. Suddenly, I became aware it wasn’t just me going through this alone.”

Having dedicated her life to serving others, it took Glover some time to adjust to being the one on the receiving end of so much care and attention.

“It’s a totally different thing when you’re on the other side,” she said. “It was so heartfelt seeing all those who showed up in service of me. When you’re sick and things happen, you really find out who your friends are and who will be there.”

Despite the outpouring of support around her, Glover still was pushing the limits of what she could do on her own.

I've always been very determined, so I tested a lot of boundaries with myself,” she said. “When I should have been resting, I would get up and come to work because I knew I had a longer road ahead of me and needed to pace myself. And frankly, I wanted to be here at work because it took my mind off of my issues and problems.”

From a mastectomy of her left breast to chemo treatments and radiation, Glover has endured a lot during her journey, and it’s not quite over just yet.

“I’ll be starting immunotherapy soon, and then I’ll have another surgery,” she said, mentioning that she hopes to wait until after the start of 2024 for the procedure.

The lengthy process has been one that’s been filled with both good days and bad days.

“There were days where emotionally and mentally I didn’t feel like myself, especially looking in the mirror and I didn’t have my hair. I didn’t even recognize myself,” she said. “It almost makes you feel as if you don’t have a purpose. I felt all those things. I felt so much, but on those hard days I would just start counting down from five to get out of bed, and then I’d do it again to get me to the next step.”

As she worked to make it to each next step, the loved ones and colleagues she had in her corner helped give her the additional strength she needed to keep going, as did the care team she had guiding her along the way.

“I had wonderful doctors,” she said. “I thank them so much for thinking outside of the box as they cared for me.”

This feature first ran as a story in the  2023 Think Pink special section  of the Daily News. You can view the full  publication  online or download the PDF .