3 minute read

Lifelong Caregiver Faces Life-Changing Diagnosis

This has fueled my fire. This has made me realize. I am right where I need to be, sharing my story, helping others so that their story is different than mine.

Lifelong Caregiver Faces Life-Changing Diagnosis
Gena Bravo describes herself as “a mom, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a nurse, a hospital president… and a cancer survivor.”

Gena’s journey in health care began when she was just a child — caring for her single father, a Vietnam veteran who suffered a life-altering traumatic brain injury when his helicopter crashed. After years of helping him navigate a complex web of care for his mental and physical health, Gena eventually realized she was called to care for others. She became a nurse.

Her entire career has been at what are now CommonSpirit Health hospitals, including many years spent in the Emergency Department at Mercy General Hospital (Sacramento, California), before accepting the call to move into hospital leadership at Woodland Memorial Hospital (Woodland, California) first as the Chief Nurse Executive and eventually as Hospital President, a role she holds today.

A lifetime of caring for others took a detour in April 2021, however, when Gena noticed swelling in her shoulder and chest and found a lump in her breast. She would eventually be diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer that had metastasized to two sets of lymph nodes and included four tumors measuring 7 centimeters.

“It had been almost 3 years since I had had a mammogram,” Gena says. “The truth is, as nurses, a caretaker, I never learned to put myself first. I had recently moved to a new county, took on an executive role at a new hospital, and led a team through a pandemic. All excuses. As a nurse, I know better. I thought I was immune. I found out no one is immune.”

Facing a cancer diagnosis while leading a hospital through a worldwide pandemic would be the most challenging experience of Gena’s personal and professional life. But buoyed by the strength of her colleagues and her care team, she did not waver.

“I had the choice to let breast cancer define my day to day or to control my story and let life prevail instead,” Gena says. “Sure I had to slow down here and there but overall — I kept on going. That is who I am and I wasn’t going to let anything take that from me. I made it to huddles and rounds, I helped to vaccinate our staff, and took to the streets to ensure those most in need also had access. I was recognized at Congressman John Garamendi’s Women of the Year event for my public service work. I had chemo, surgery, then radiation and then got right back to my desk and the hospital halls that rang for me for what I know to be a higher calling.”

Today Gena is healthy and filled with appreciation for the countless years of clinical research that made her cancer treatments possible, ensuring she would earn the label of “survivor.”

“I don’t know where my next chapters will take me. I do know I have a lot of life left to live. A life full of gratitude. Gratitude for the research, the knowledge, the testing, the treatments, the care, the kindness that has allowed me to be here today — cancer free. If there is anyone in healthcare that has lost your WHY, look at any one of those faces, that is your why, that is why you do what you do.”