Carmel woman shares cancer battle, winding road to college in WGU commencement address

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By Desiree Williams

Michelle Shaffer has checked off another item on her bucket list: college. She obtained a master’s degree in nursing education in September, and on Nov. 3 she delivered the commencement address for online college Western Governors University.

“The theme of my speech is the moments and the people in your life that make the changes in your life,” the Carmel resident said. “I had no intentions of ever being a nurse, no intentions of being an instructor, and no intentions of combining the two, and now here I am.”

Her journey wasn’t easy. Shaffer earned a GED after dropping out of high school during her senior year and picked up small jobs along the way. When she and her husband married, they brought together a combined total of five children and then added two more to the family through a custody battle and taking in a friend.

Shortly after custody was finalized in 2010, Shaffer was diagnosed with breast cancer. She opted for a 19-hour bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction.

“I try to live every day to its fullest,” she said. “I make sure to get those experiences that I always say that I want to do someday, but prior to my diagnosis, I’d say, ‘Oh, eventually I’ll do it,’ and I would never think twice about it.”

One of her goals was college. She began at Ivy Tech just before her surgery and only missed one week of classes. She was pursuing a different health care degree but said the care from her nurses after surgery inspired her to join the RN-MSN program at WGU. Since January 2018, Shaffer has combined her passion for nursing and education as a nursing instructor at Ivy Tech.

“I love seeing the lightbulbs go off and watching the students put things together,” she said. “One day I’m going to be that patient and I want to make sure that when (these students) walk in my room, I’m going to be confident in their ability to care for me.”

Shaffer has clinical rotations at Hancock Regional Hospital on Mondays and Wednesdays, office hours on Tuesdays and simulation at Ivy Tech on Thursdays.

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