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VIProfile: Gay Ensey

by Lee Rennick

When Gay Ensey received the diagnosis of breast cancer, the disease was far from new to her. Both her mother and younger sister had previously been diagnosed with the disease, and she helped them through their journey. She has also been a nurse at Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford for 46 years, and in her current position as Program Coordinator for Orthopedics and Neurosurgery, she shares a floor with Oncology and sees cancer patients every day. 

“I have had a lot of first-hand experience with [cancer],” said Ensey, “so it wasn’t as devastating to me. It wasn’t that my world turned upside down. I’m also a very realistic, very calm person, so I was like, ‘hey we have a new adventure in life. We’re going to go for it and figure this out.’”

The one thing she had to figure out is all the different types of breast cancer. Like everyone else, she heard the commercials for treatment drugs that mention “Her2,” “E-receptors,” and more, but that part was all new to her. Learning more about what type she had helped her understand her treatment better. 

“When I received my diagnosis, I had to look to the surgeon to understand it,” said Ensey. “Most people would...but I didn’t know if things were good or bad. I do wish I had known more about that.”

She knew immediately was where she was going to get treated, who her doctors were going to be and she pulled together her support system. Her team included Dr. Jimmy Carter, Dr. Brad Medling, Dr. Victor Gian with TN Oncology and Dr. Paul Ledoux and JoAnn Mayes with Murfreesboro Anesthesia Group. But, she knows not everyone has the support that she had, so she recommends that those with a new diagnosis lean heavily on their nurse navigator. 
“They have been there with many people…from first diagnosis to those who have already had surgery, are out of remission and are back in remission,” explained Ensey. “They know the story and they are good to talk to…Don’t be afraid to ask for…resources.” 

One of her biggest self-discoveries was that she was not above cancer. She exercises, eats right, lives a good life and has faith, but she still received a cancer diagnosis. That is why she is so adamant that people get their annual mammograms so they can have an early diagnosis.

Ensey had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Being an active and independent person, she found the two weeks after her surgery when she was unable to care for herself because she could not raise her arms the hardest. Her support system -- her husband, daughter, son, extended family and nurse friends – all kicked in and she learned to not be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help during cancer is, Ensey feels, the bravest thing you can do. 

Being a nurse gave her a leg up on treatment because she went into nursing to help others. She knew she wanted to be a nurse from the time she was four. By age 10, she was helping her mentor and idol, Bedford County’s Health Nurse Mrs. Anderson, with the distribution of polio vaccines. 

Born on a dairy farm in Unionville, she was raised by hard working people, but no one was ever in the medical field. Still, her family supported her goal of becoming a nurse. On July 7, 1977, she became an RN at what was then Rutherford Hospital. She has seen more changes there than just the name, yet she has never seen a reason to go anywhere else. The hospital is a second family. It is at their urging that she decided to tell her story as this year’s Power of Pink Honoree for October 2023’s Wine Around the Square. 

“If anything in my story can help spread awareness that the Power of Pink provides those who are uninsured and underinsured have access to mammograms and early detection, then I am all about it,” she added.

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