Montana State Nursing Student Overcomes Cancer to Graduate With High Honors
School usually wasn’t a problem for Peyton Michnal, but during her first year in the Mark and Robyn Jones College of Nursing at Montana State University, she had trouble understanding and memorizing basic concepts. And she was losing weight.
During finals week of her second semester, doctors discovered a tumor and diagnosed her with a rare form of brain cancer.
Michnal took a year off school for treatment. She has since returned to the nursing college and is set to graduate Dec. 15 with high honors.
“It was so night and day,” she said of her brain functions before and after treatment. “I thought nursing school was this super hard, miserable thing. I went back to school, and I was comprehending things that never clicked.”
Born in Montana’s Flathead Valley, Michnal spent most of her childhood in Boise, Idaho, and moved to Kalispell for high school. Her grandmother was a nurse, and, inspired by the nurses who helped deliver her sister-in-law’s baby, Michnal decided on a career in the medical field. She took prerequisite classes at Flathead Valley Community College and enrolled in the MSU nursing program at its Kalispell campus to pursue her bachelor’s degree.
“I had my goal set,” she said. “I wanted to be a labor and delivery nurse, and cancer got in the way of it.”
After her diagnosis, Michnal wanted to stay in school during treatment but decided to take time off to focus on her health, something she recommends to others facing similar obstacles.
Michnal moved into a Seattle hotel room with her mother for a month for treatment, which was difficult and frightening. She had allergic reactions to chemotherapy. Her cancer was rare, so some of the treatments seemed more like a hope than a sure solution. She felt discouraged and useless, spending her days in the hospital and returning to rest in the hotel. She didn’t enjoy being strapped to a table for radiation treatment.
“It didn’t taste good,” she said. “It didn’t smell good. It smells like you’re on fire when you’re getting your brain radiated.”
But she made it through to remission. She credits her mother and MSU nursing faculty for supporting her during the trying times.
After returning to school, Michnal impressed faculty — including Ashley MacNeill, a clinical instructor at MSU’s Kalispell campus who taught and advised Michnal — with her intelligence, meticulous note taking and attentiveness.
“She’s an amazing person,” MacNeill said. “She will go on to do wonderful things and provide great patient care.”
As difficult as it was, Michnal’s battle with cancer will likely help her in her career as a nurse, according to her instructors. While she was getting treatment in Seattle, Michnal connected with and mentored a young patient, teaching him tricks to help deal with radiation treatment.
“She was already so kind and empathetic to start with,” said Angele Romero, another one of Michnal’s instructors. “She is going to be able to offer her patients insight into what it’s like to receive care.”
After she receives her diploma this month, Michnal will start a new job in Whitefish, working in a labor and delivery unit.
“I just look back and cannot believe I did it,” Michnal said. “It is relieving to know that I made it. The end is in sight.”