Positively the Heartland: Nebraska native navigates cancer diagnosis while working as a nurse

Posted at 7:47 AM, Feb 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-18 08:47:36-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Eryn Brown's story is as much about grit as it is grace.

The Osceola, Nebraska native moved to Lincoln, then Omaha, to pursue a career in nursing. Though, she sees it more as her destiny.

"My grandma was a nurse. She's now retired. And my mom's been a nurse for a little bit longer than I've been alive — she's been a nurse for 30 years," she shared.

Brown was well on her way to following in their footsteps, when she experienced swelling in her jaw, presumably from clenching. She had already been diagnosed with a condition that would explain that. In March 2018, she went to the doctor for confirmation.

"They did a scan to make sure I didn't have an infection, and they caught two of my 12 brain tumors on that scan."

Two months of tests would help Brown better understand what she was facing.

"(The doctor) said, at that point, I had metastatic brain cancer," she said, fighting back tears. "Looking back, I had just learned about this in nursing school. And I had learned at that point that it was a median survival rate of about a year."

The eventual diagnosis was melanoma: the most serious type of skin cancer. Unusual, because Brown didn't have any warning signs like irregular or dark moles.

Brown's oncologist encouraged her to set short-term goals, one of which was to graduate from nursing school. Determined, she returned for clinicals shortly after brain surgery. In between immunotherapy treatments, she studied.

She earned her Bachelor's degree and is now back in school studying to be a nurse practitioner. Brown is currently a nurse at Children's Hospital and Medical Center and works with undergrads as a graduate assistant at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

"I always tell (the students) 'this is going to be hard. But I'm here to tell you that you can do it!'"

As pandemic-related fatigue grips the industry, an alarming number of new nurses are leaving the workforce within their first two years: at a rate of 33%, according to

Yet Brown can't imagine ever walking away.

"I've fought very hard to get where I'm at."

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