Compassion in the face of cancer: Epic Care oncology nurse teaches hope from a patient’s perspective

As both a caregiver and a patient, Diana Longacre saw firsthand the positive impact oncology nurses could make during a battle with cancer. And for nearly three decades, she has delivered that same exceptional quality of care to her own patients.

The longtime registered nurse, who joined Epic Care in 2018, entered nursing school as a young mom and began her career with stints as a unit assistant and med-surg nurse. Eventually, she found her calling in oncology — a move inspired partly by her father’s lung cancer diagnosis.

“I found that some of the most compassionate nurses I’ve ever met in my life were oncology nurses,” Longacre recalls. “And they were very knowledgeable, and their strength was just phenomenal with patient care.”

Longacre learned in 2001 that she had breast cancer, which the CDC says today is the second most common cancer among women in the United States. Among Californian women like her, breast cancer was the most-diagnosed cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in 2018, according to the CDC.

Longacre underwent several surgeries, plus six months of chemotherapy treatment. She says that taught her what cancer patients truly experience, providing her a uniquely understanding, empathetic and insightful perspective.

“Being an oncology nurse for so many years, it was very different to give chemotherapy versus to receive it,” she says. “I was very humbled by the experience. And later on, I found the gifts that I have to give because of being a survivor.”

Redefining Cancer Recovery

After a year off to recover from her treatment, Longacre dived back into work. She started a chemotherapy orientation class to guide newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and their families and then created cancer support groups. Having watched relatives fight cancer, Longacre knows that caregivers need support, too, while they face the unknown along with their loved ones.

“I have always said it’s a family diagnosis,” she says.

Longacre also knows that a cancer diagnosis can overwhelm people. She encourages patients and caregivers to believe in themselves and trust their decisions through cancer treatment.

“Don’t worry about what might not happen, because you can’t ever get that time back,” Longacre tells patients. “And live each minute, because that’s all we have today.”

Longacre later spent several years in healthcare management, leading four oncology facilities and training new oncology nurses. Meanwhile, patient care continued to call to her. Eager to get back into hands-on nursing, she joined Epic Care and now shares her talents and personal experience at its network of care centers in the East Bay Area.

“I want to sit at the bedside with patients and educate them and share my story when needed — only when it would … be a benefit to the patient, because this is not about me,” Longacre says. “It is about being the compassionate, caring nurse that I always wanted to be.”

Embracing the ‘Team’ Approach

At Epic Care, Longacre belongs to a kindhearted team offering a wide range of services, especially for breast health. Patients who face breast cancer, like Longacre has, can turn to Epic Care in and around the communities where they live. They’ll find high-risk surveillance, breast cancer prevention and diagnostic services, like ultrasounds and biopsies. Longacre believes the continuity of care is one of the things that makes Epic Care stand out.

“You see the same doctor,” she says. “If there’s a problem, the triage nurses go to that specific doctor; the communication is good. The respect between the doctors and the nurses — no one’s better than each other. There’s a lot of camaraderie.”

Longacre continues to make an impact on the next generation of Epic Care nurses. She passes on her extensive knowledge, guiding new nurses to connect with patients and provide best care for them and their loved ones — especially in those difficult moments.

“I’ve been around the entire picture of all of it, from becoming a nurse to becoming a caregiver,” Longacre says. “My father was actually the first patient to die in my arms. And when that happened, I was like, oh my God. But as I look back now … what a gift he gave me to not be afraid.”

Raising Awareness and Tranquility

Longacre’s caring spirit has extended beyond the walls of the office, too. She once raised $16,000 for an Avon breast cancer walk in San Francisco.

“I care about people. I want to make a difference,” she says. “And when people say to me, ‘Thank you so much for helping me to get through my day,’ you know, that fills my heart because I know that I made a difference. And they make a difference for me.”

Longacre has no regrets about choosing to spend her career in oncology. She finds balance between her sometimes heartbreaking field of work and her personal life, thanks to a tranquil home, her loving family and lots of time spent enjoying live music. And although she sees retirement in her future – and perhaps a family band, alongside her musically inclined son and granddaughter – Longacre wishes she still had decades ahead of her so she could continue nursing for many more years.

“On my tombstone,” Longacre says, “I just want it to say, ‘She was kind and nice to people. She gave it her best. She made a difference.'”

At Epic Care, it is our goal to provide high-quality healthcare to our patients throughout Northern California’s East Bay area. Our patients are our purpose and we are passionate about creating personalized care plans to help guide you to the best possible outcomes, restoring your health and quality of life. To do just that, our staff is composed of expert doctors, surgeons, and nurses who are closely connected to our community and are committed to providing exceptional care, accurate diagnoses, and healing treatments.

Whether you are a caregiver or a patient, you can find an Epic Care location near you to meet with a physician for consult and learn more about our services.