I don’t remember much about when I was diagnosed with or treated for acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood in the bone marrow. I was just 3 years old. But that one word — “cancer” — set me on a lifelong career path.
By age 14, I vehemently declared I would become a pediatric oncology nurse, and not just at any hospital. I knew I wanted to work at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
My memories of my cancer journey live in the form of two small scars from where my central line, used to administer chemotherapy, had been placed.
I have photos my mother took of me, at what was known at the time as Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, in a ladybug Halloween costume I got from one of the Child Life specialists. One of the many kind nurses also bought me some ladybug rain boots to go with the costume. I had the biggest smile on my face in the photo.
What I can’t recall, my mother shares in stories about the amazing care I received and about the toys people gave me to play with during my hospital stay. One of nurses, Anthony, still works at Children’s Hospital.
Once in remission at age 5, I began attending Camp Horizon, a summer camp in Kingston Springs, Tennessee, for children who have or are in remission from cancer.
After going there for nine years, first as a camper, then as a camp volunteer, I saw the resilience the kids had, and how quick they were to bounce back and not let the trials of cancer affect them. They would go to camp to be kids and to have a good time. So, that is really where I found my passion to get back to Vanderbilt as a nurse.
I’ve also seen people over the years at that camp who came back to be nurses at Vanderbilt. I knew I wanted to do that too, because these people have helped in my healing journey.
While in school at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, I was able to start work at Children’s Hospital as a care partner, first one day a week and then more frequently. I graduated from UTC in December 2021, and I began my nurse residency in pediatric oncology at Children’s Hospital in February (2022).
I am honored that I get to be part of kids’ healing journey, whether they have a bump on their head or are sick in the intensive care unit. I know the child, or the parents, may be scared because of something small or something big. To help ease the fears they have or to help distract from the fear the child might have, has been a big part of my job that I have loved.
There are nurses I’ve met who work on the oncology unit who also had cancer as a child. I knew if they could do it, I could do it. I would say if you have a goal, and you want to give back, don’t be afraid to chase after that goal. I’ve chased my goal for the last nine years. So, make your dreams a reality. You can give back to the people who have helped you, whether that was 20 years ago, or two years ago.