ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Breast Cancer Awareness went beyond the month of October and became a year round lesson for one University of Central Florida nursing instructor.

What You Need To Know

  • Five years ago, UCF nursing instructor Joyce Degennaro was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer

  • She has used her experience as a way to teach her students

  • She has undergone 11 rounds of chemotherapy and has had four cancer recurrences

For the past five years, Joyce Degennaro has been battling stage four breast cancer.

But while some view that diagnosis as a death sentence, she sees it as her greatest teaching tool.

On day one of classes, nursing student Megan Donnelly got a strong impression of Degennaro, her new instructor.

“She is incredible," said Donnelly. "As soon as you meet her she is inspiring, passionate.”

Those were qualities Degennaro always strived to embrace.

“I was an ICU nurse for years, and I thought I was, like, the best nurse," Degannaro said. "Not to brag or anything, but I was like, I made sure my patients were first."

Five years ago, a lump she found under her arm led to her biggest life, and career, lesson yet.

It was a shift in perspective, that she quickly turned into a teachable moment.

“So in my labs I said, ‘Alright everybody, come feel this,'" Degennaro said. "So they (my students) felt it, and then I said, 'Alright, let’s do a complete lymph exam.' So they started back here, and they started, and they said, ‘Oh, Ms. D, you have one right here.”

That lump was a sign of something much more serious.

“I had a CT scan, and the doctor came back and said, 'You do have cancer. It looks like cancer has spread to your lymph system,'" said Degennaro.

It turned out to be stage four, metastatic breast cancer.

With treatment, this nurse-turned-cancer patient came face to face with a feeling she felt she was missing.

 “I always thought I gave really good care, until I was on the other side of the stethoscope," said Degennaro. "And I was like, I can be so much better. Just the little things, like an ice pack that I never thought of that could relieve pain for someone, or holding someone’s hand.”

With her students in mind, she pulled out her phone, and pressed record.

She documented her treatments from the hospital bed, and embedded that into her curriculum.

“I just want to use this mess that I’m having to deal with to make them better nurses for people like me," said Degennaro.

"She posted these videos for all of us to watch, and just the way that she connects that, her journey, into teaching in a very personal way, it’s amazing," said Donnelly.

Degennaro is still in the fight. She's on her 11th chemotherapy round and has had four cancer recurrences.

Yet, she continues to teach and because of that, some call her crazy.

She calls it her best medicine, and Donnelly calls it inspiring,

“She probably doesn’t even know how many times me and my friends will text each other and talk about her and be like if she can do everything she’s doing, we can definitely do this," Donnelly said. "I don’t think she has any idea the impact she has on all of us."