Oncology Patient Grows Up to Become CHOC Oncology Nurse

When most adults think back to their earliest memory, they might remember a field trip in preschool or a vacation with family. But Caroline, a registered nurse in the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s, remembers CHOC. She was diagnosed with cancer at age two, and spent the next two and a half years in and out of treatment.

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Caroline was diagnosed with cancer at age two. Years later, after winning her battle, she returned to CHOC as a registered nurse.

“I remember the playrooms, my nurses, the child life specialists, and the friends I made in the hospital,” she recalls. “Several families got really close because of our shared experiences and regularly got together for years after we all finished treatment.”

Caroline now works alongside several of the nurses and physicians who helped her beat cancer as a young child.

Karen DeAnda, a registered nurse at CHOC, was the first one to care for Caroline after her diagnosis, and started Caroline’s very first IV.

“I do recall the day Caroline came in for the first time. She was tiny, and I was a brand new nurse,” DeAnda says. “Those initial first days when a patient is being diagnosed is very difficult on the entire family. I clearly remember the day she was diagnosed and helping her through that first evening in the hospital. It was a surreal experience to see her so many years later as a grown woman; it made my heart pound. She is truly an inspiration to our patients and families.”

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Caroline was a young child when she was at CHOC fighting cancer. Today, she’s a registered nurse at CHOC standing alongside patients fighting their own cancer battles.

Caroline’s parents were at her bedside as often as they could be, but when they weren’t able to be there, her nurses stepped in.

“My nurses were the people who were always there with me when my parents couldn’t be. It was like a big family,” she says. “My mom was a huge worrier, and for her to trust my nurses was a big thing.”

Although Caroline was very young when she was diagnosed with cancer, she has a unique connection to the patients she now cares for and their families.

“Caroline’s compassion and firsthand experience is a gift to our patients and their families. Whether or not she even shares her story with her patients, the fact that she has walked that walk, regardless of her young age at the time, allows her to have immense empathy and understanding for what the entire family is experiencing,” DeAnda says.

The impact that Caroline’s care team had on her as a patient directly influenced her career path.

“I’ve always been interested in medicine,” she says. “There was never a question about what I wanted to do when I grew up; I always knew that I would become an oncology nurse at CHOC.”

For a short time during her undergraduate studies, she momentarily lost sight of that goal, and was struggling in school. At the time, CHOC was in the midst of constructing the Bill Holmes Tower, and Caroline’s dad arranged for the two of them to have a behind-the-scenes tour. One of Caroline’s primary nurses during her cancer treatment, Melanie Patterson, now the vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at CHOC, showed them the new technology and amenities that would be coming to CHOC, and it reignited Caroline’s passion.

She applied to nursing school the next day, and began volunteering in CHOC’s oncology unit, two things that made her former nurse very proud.

“I remember Caroline’s beautiful hair the day she was diagnosed. This beautiful toddler girl— my heart melted for her immediately. She was very young when she was treated, but this prepared her for the emotional, mental and physical toll of oncology nursing” Patterson says. “We have many former patients working at CHOC, and it makes my heart and soul glow knowing that CHOC nurses have impacted kids growing into adults that way.”

Once on the receiving end of the small acts of kindness from nurses — who once went out of their way to pick up Caroline’s favorite food when she was sick from treatment and wouldn’t eat—Caroline now understands the importance of going the extra mile for patients and families.

“Remembering how a mom takes her coffee in the morning, or seeing a child who is cold and bringing them a heated blanket when they didn’t even know we had those, can sometimes be the thing that changes their outlook on the whole day, and such a welcome surprise for them,” Caroline says.

Transitioning from patient to nurse did not happen without a few unexpected revelations.

“When I became a nurse, I was surprised at how much this career is a labor of love. When I was a patient, I had no idea how much work nurses did behind the scenes when I wasn’t looking,” Caroline says. “I felt like the center of their whole world. I didn’t know they had a lot of centers of their world.”

As much as Caroline enjoys caring for pediatric oncology patients the way she once was cared for, she loves even more when she gets to send them home.

“What I love most about working at CHOC is seeing patients get healthy and sending them home, where they belong,” Caroline says. “I also love seeing so many people come together for one child’s health. Seeing that happen day after day is really powerful.”

Have you been inspired by a nurse at CHOC? Nominate them for the Daisy Award

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Cancer Patient to Caregiver

When Kim was seventeen, her life looked much like a typical teenager’s. She had a part-time job, enjoyed trips to the beach with friends, and was anxiously awaiting her senior year of high school.

But when she found herself short of breath more often than her friends were, her mom brought her to a local emergency room , just in case. She was ultimately diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

She would spend the next 26 months in and out of CHOC Children’s fighting cancer, but always with an end goal in mind: to return someday as a hematology/oncology nurse at the Hyundai Cancer Institute, which she did, ten years after her diagnosis.

“Even back then I thought that when I was better, I was going to be a nurse at CHOC,” she says. “I don’t think I chose my career; I think it chose me. Ever since I got sick, there was never an option to do anything else, anywhere else.”

Despite spending so much time in and out of the hospital while fighting cancer, Kim says she never felt like a patient, something she credits to her nurses.

“I was very involved in my care because I was fascinated by medicine,” she says. “They had protocols to follow and did everything they needed to, but I never felt like a patient. I was always Kimberly.”

Despite knowing the hospital setting from a patient’s perspective, there were a few surprises when she joined the care team.

“At the time, I didn’t realize all the behind-the-scenes work of being a nurse,” Kim says. “No matter what stressful situation had occurred to them earlier that day or just before they came into my room, it didn’t matter. As soon as they would walk into my room, it was all about me, and they were leaving their stress at the door.”

She now works alongside several physicians and nurses who cared for her when she was a patient.

“A lot of times when I see them, despite the hustle and bustle of working in a hospital, they’ll take a moment to come up to me and hug me extra tight,” Kim says.

One of her nurses, Dana Moran, lights up every time she sees Kim. The two bonded over TV shows, movies and anything else Kim had wanted to talk about when she was a patient.

“At that age, it’s easy to become discouraged and shut down emotionally, but not Kim,” Dana says. “She was scared and she was sick, but she never lost her sense of humor. She remained strong and positive for the people around her who were worried about her.”

Small acts of kindness from nurses like Dana have stuck with Kim for more than a decade.

“My mom would tell me how the nurses brought her hot coffee every morning, and how much a small gesture like that meant so much to her. So, I try to tap into the little things like that, since I know they make such a big difference to patients and families,” she said.

Kim’s pediatric oncologist, Dr. Lilibeth Torno, met Kim’s ambulance upon her initial transfer to CHOC, and they now work side by side.

“I admitted Kim when she was first diagnosed. Her mom had a bouquet of flowers which she handed over to me,” Dr. Torno recalls. “As a former patient, she truly understands, more than anyone else, what it is like to have a life-threatening diagnosis. She experienced firsthand the difficult procedures and treatment her diagnosis entailed, and it has made her an effective advocate for her patients. It is a joy and privilege to walk this difficult journey with our patients. It truly makes my work meaningful to see them move on in life.”

Kim’s time as a patient also affected her career on a very detailed level.

“Whenever I do a task, no matter how small, I can remember when that was done to me, and I think it brings a softer touch to what I do,” she says. “My whole heart is in what I do. I treat my patients’ families like they were my own.”

Celebrating important milestones for patients is an especially heartfelt part of her role as a nurse.

“As much as we love seeing our patients here, there is nothing better than being able to send patients home,” Kim says. “I remember how happy I was to be sent home at the end of a hospital stay, and I love being able to help them celebrate by singing, “Happy Last Chemo to You.”

Have you been inspired by a nurse at CHOC? Nominate them for the Daisy Award

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Three CHOC Caretakers Shave Heads, Raise Awareness for Pediatric Cancer

Meet three members of the CHOC Children’s care team who recently shaved their heads to raise awareness and research funds for pediatric cancer.

Erika Crawford, RN, Oncology

pediatric cancer

“I used to work in Portland, Oregon as a pediatric hematology/oncology nurse and it was just part of the nursing culture there to at least participate once in this process. As the clippers were shaving my head in 2010, I found that it was a very emotional experience. I imagined the many patients I had taken care of that had experienced the same thing. At work, the patients and parents verbalized gratitude and some parents were inspired to shave their own heads for their children. I told myself then, that I would like to participate in another head shaving event once again in my lifetime.

Not only is it a great way to raise awareness and much-needed funds for pediatric cancer research, but it’s a way for nurses to participate in their patient’s journey. Our patients don’t get a choice in losing their hair (which is a very difficult thing to experience), but as a nurse we can choose to join them in a small way on their journey by choosing to experience being bald.

Even though I have been down this road before, I still struggle internally with my approaching baldness. However, those same insecurities, feelings and fears are experienced by our young patients. I think it’s important to walk with them on this journey in some way shape or form.”

Karen DeAnda, RN, CN Oncology

pediatric cancer
Inspired by the oncology patients they care for at CHOC Children’s, registered nurse Erika Crawford, charge nurse Karen DeAnda, and clinical associate Viri Harris recently shaved their heads to raise awareness and research funds for pediatric cancer.

“When I first met Erika, she had a cute bald noggin. She had just participated in another head shaving event to raise money for childhood cancer research. Over the years I have thought it would be something I’d like to do. When Erika told me she was participating again this year I decided it was now or never. As Erika has expressed, it is a very emotional process. When I tell people what I am doing they are absolutely amazed and shocked that I would do such a thing. This is a very small way that we can show our patients our respect for the difficult road they travel. I can honestly say that I am terrified, but also extremely proud and committed to this process. I love my job and this small gesture is one way I can give back to the wonderful children I have had the privilege of caring for here at CHOC.

I am fortunate to work with some amazing nurses who have been so generous with their donations and emotional support. My family has been fundraising on my behalf as well, and the response has just been phenomenal.”

Viri Harris, clinical associate, Outpatient Infusion Center

pediatric cancer

“I have been at CHOC for 18 months, and this is the second time shaving my head as a form of honoring the children we serve. I wanted to do something to show my love for them and to show gratitude for the way they and their families have inspired me on a daily basis. To be completely honest, I was nervous about how my head would look bald- I had an intense fear that my head would be oddly shaped. But, then I thought about how I wanted to come alongside these beautiful kids, and my nervousness went away. We witness these kids and their families struggle on a daily basis and this has inspired me to support them in any way I can. If that means shaving my head to bring awareness and raise funds, that is what I will do- it is the least I can do.”

Have you had a special nurse at CHOC? Nominate them for the Daisy Award

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Two Oncologists with Special Interest in Immunotherapy Join Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s

Two oncologists have joined the team of nationally-recognized specialists of the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s. Dr. Josephine HaDuong and Dr. Ashley Plant were both fellowship trained at two of the country’s top cancer programs, and share research interest in immunotherapy and targeted therapies.

Dr. Josephine HaDuong is board-certified in pediatric hematology and oncology, and was drawn to the Cancer Institute for what she refers to as its gold standard of care.

“The Hyundai Cancer Institute is a growing center that strives to be among the best. The team provides patients access to cutting-edge clinical trials that may lead to breakthroughs in pediatric cancer,” says Dr. HaDuong.

Her research is driven, in large part, by her clinical interest in caring for patients with solid tumors. A published author and principal investigator in a number of studies, Dr. HaDuong’s major research activities include exploring developmental therapeutics in solid tumors using immunomodulatory and targeted agents, as well as functional imaging in bone and soft tissue sarcomas using magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Following medical school at the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a full tuition merit scholarship, Dr. HaDuong completed her residency and pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship training at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She was honored with the Fellow of the Year, Excellence in Teaching Award.

She is a member of numerous professional associations, including American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Society of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, and North American Consortium for Histiocytosis. In addition to English, she speaks Spanish and Vietnamese.

Raised in Orange County, Dr. HaDuong is thrilled to be back in her hometown. “I have always wanted to return home to serve the children and families in Orange County. I look forward to being a part of an incredible team who works relentlessly to end cancer,” says Dr. HaDuong.

Dr. Ashley Plant is committed to growing CHOC’s neuro-oncology treatment program, and eager to bring new therapies to patients with brain tumors. “I look forward to collaborating with academia and industry to bring early clinical trials to CHOC, especially in the area of immunotherapy. I am also excited to partner with my new colleagues to advance the work the Cancer Institute has been doing to reduce the long-term toxicities of cancer therapy,” says Dr. Plant.

Dr. Plant is a published author whose research interests include early phase clinical trial design for pediatric brain tumors. Her most recent project is a phase 1 clinical trial for a neo-antigen heat shock protein vaccine for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a fatal brain tumor. She hopes to enroll patients in this trial within the next year. She considers herself fortunate to have worked under world-renowned immuno-oncologists Dr. Glenn Dranoff and Dr. Jerome Ritz at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. There, she won the Young Investigator Award for a project evaluating clonality of T cell receptors in pediatric gliomas.

Following medical school at Stanford University, Dr. Plant finished her residency at University of California, Los Angeles. Her fellowship training in pediatric hematology/oncology was completed at Boston Children’s Hospital. She received additional training in clinical trials and public health at Harvard Chan School of Public Health.

“I was attracted to CHOC because the hospital prioritizes excellent clinical care of patients above all else,” says Dr. Plant. “The hospital’s commitment to patient-and-family-centered care is something I wholeheartedly support. Cancer affects everyone in the family – physically, emotionally, psychologically and sometimes even financially. If we fail to address these issues, we are not completely caring for our patients and their families.”

Learn more about the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s.

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CHOC Walk in the Park: Meet Team Timmaree

By Debbie Hicks, CHOC Walk in the Park participant 

At 7 years of age, our daughter Timmaree was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer called orbital rhabdomyosarcoma. In the process of enduring extensive chemotherapy treatments, she lost her hair, but never lost her faith, smile, resilience, and trust in us as parents to ensure she received the best possible care. We turned to the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s.

Timmaree bonded with pet therapy dogs during her time at CHOC.
Timmaree bonded with pet therapy dogs during her time at CHOC.

To help pass the time during her lengthy hospital stays, Timmaree enjoyed painting rocks. Her first piece of art was a butterfly. She drew a cancer ribbon and then began doodling around it. She excitedly shouted out, “This is a cancer ribbon butterfly!” Timmaree’s rock painting quickly caught the attention of CHOC doctors, nurses and volunteers, as well as other patients, who lined up outside her room to get a glimpse of her special creations. Timmaree never intended on selling them, but many people made generous donations in hopes she would buy something extra special for herself.

After fighting a tough and courageous battle for nearly two years, Timmaree passed away on Dec. 21, 2008, just eight days after turning 9. She was a hero to thousands of people who had the opportunity to meet her, helping change people’s perspectives about life. Many feel honored they have one of Timmaree’s limited edition painted rocks with her signature.

A selection of Timmaree’s limited edition painted rocks.
A selection of Timmaree’s limited edition painted rocks.

Timmaree is with us in spirit. To celebrate her legacy and to brighten the day for patients, we bring the Team Timmaree Rock Craft Day to CHOC the last Sunday of every month. By hosting garage sales and bake sales, we raise money to provide 250 rock painting kits each month — for a total of 18,000 kits since we started seven years ago. In addition, we have proudly participated in the CHOC Walk in the Park since 2007. Our team, donning t-shirts with Timmaree’s butterfly art, has raised more than $260,000.

The 2016 CHOC Walk marks our team’s 10th anniversary, and we can’t think of a better way to honor Timmaree and CHOC than serving as an ambassador family. CHOC was our “home away from home” for two years, during which time we witnessed inspiring miracles and courageous battles. For that reason and so many others, we look forward to joining thousands of walkers at the Disneyland Resort on Oct. 30, 2016. Together, we’ll take steps in support of CHOC and the children and families they serve.

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CHOC Nurse, Patient Share Love of Music

Music has been a bright spot for Christine throughout her entire life – and especially while undergoing treatment at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s.

And when CHOC nurse Erika Crawford heard Christine playing a familiar song on a piano while receiving chemotherapy treatment one day, she spoke up.

“I told her I knew that song on the ukulele, and that we should play together,” Erika recalls.

Since then, the pair has regularly jammed together while Christine, 17, is in CHOC’s Outpatient Infusion Center. Inspired by Erika, Christine started learning the ukulele and the pair will tinker on songs together.

They even gave their duo a name: E.C. Teal, which incorporates their initials and the color they both happened to wear one day.

Because infusions can take hours, music helps Christine pass the time and take her mind off her condition.

“I’ve always loved music,” she says. “Going through cancer made me realized just how much I loved music.”

Erika began playing the ukulele only a year ago. She was previously learning the guitar and thought its smaller cousin might help her learn faster. And now, it serves as another way for her to connect with patients like Christine.

“It’s fantastic,” she says. “It’s the best part of the job.”

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Once a CHOC Oncology Patient, Now an Oncology Nurse

As a typical, happy-go-lucky six-year-old, Shaina was playing outside with her brother before dinner time, when her back started hurting.

She laid down on the couch to rest, but when her mom called her for dinner, she was too weak to even make it to the table. A trip to a local emergency room followed, and kidney stones were suspected. She was eventually transferred to CHOC Children’s. After additional testing, Shaina was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer that often starts in the tissue of the adrenal glands, on top of the kidneys. What they thought originally might be kidney stones, was actually the pain of her kidneys being crushed by a tumor that was growing inside her.

She underwent emergent surgery two days later to remove the tumor and one of her kidneys, and overcame the odds that were stacked against her.

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Shaina at age 6, as a patient at CHOC

“I was so young when I was diagnosed, so I don’t remember a lot of the scary parts of that time, but ever since, my family has been telling me stories about how wonderful my physicians and nurses were to our whole family during that time,” she says.

Those stories are part of the reason that six-year-old Shaina grew up to be a hematology/oncology nurse with the Hyundai Cancer Institute, in same hospital that saved her life almost two decades ago.

After surgery, Shaina was in and out of the hospital for chemotherapy treatments and a stem cell transplant. The first one hundred days after such a transplant are crucial to ensure a patient’s health and safety, and her family had to be abundantly cautious that her environment was as clean and safe as possible. At the end of those hundred days, her family threw a big party at their house to celebrate making it over the hump.

She relapsed a few months later.

Experimental treatment at various hospitals throughout Southern California followed, and three years later, she was cancer free for good.

Even during this time, Shaina knew she would return to CHOC someday.

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As a child fighting cancer, Shaina knew should would return to CHOC someday as a nurse.

Fast forward a few years and Shaina was a high school student. Searching for volunteer hours as part of her curriculum, she sought out volunteer opportunities at CHOC as a way to say thank you to the hospital that saved her life as a child.

She joined the Child Life team as a play room volunteer, helping normalize the hospital environment for patients utilizing the same play rooms she had sought an escape in while she was a patient.

She now works alongside some of the same physicians and nurses that cared for her as a child.

One of her primary oncology nurses, Dana Moran, gives her a big hug whenever they pass each other in the hallways.

“Shaina was so little when she was a patient here- she was so fragile and scared, but she was a strong kid with a strong personality, and that helped her get through her challenges,” Dana says. “Now it makes me proud to see her happy and healthy and back at CHOC caring for other kids.”

Her pediatric oncologist, Dr. Lilibeth Torno, keeps a photo from Shaina’s nursing school graduation on the desk in her office.

“I am really proud to have seen her grow and mature as a person and as a colleague in oncology,” Dr. Torno says. “I have seen her strength as she overcame challenges that cancer survivors go through and she did it successfully!”

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Sibling Caretaker Becomes CHOC Hematology/Oncology Nurse

She was barely through her first year of high school, but Emily Gruendyke was determined to be a nurse. A pediatric oncology nurse, specifically. The young teen carefully mapped the steps she would take to achieve her career goal. Nothing was going to stand in her way. And, sure enough, today Emily is a hematology/oncology nurse at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s.

Emily’s family supported her calling from day one, especially her younger sister Amanda. Better than anyone, Amanda knew Emily would be a great oncology nurse. She experienced Emily’s nurturing care often, especially after being diagnosed with a type of cancer called neuroblastoma. The diagnosis—delivered when Amanda was 9 and Emily was 14—affected the entire family. Emily quickly learned just how isolating the disease could be — not just for the patient, but for parents and siblings.

choc hematology/oncology
Emily and her late sister Amanda, at Disneyland.

“During the first year of Amanda’s treatment, she and my mom spent 200 nights at the hospital, which was about an hour from our home. I would only get to see them on weekends. And, as much as my friends cared, they didn’t really understand what we were all going through,” explains Emily.

When Emily was able to visit Amanda at the hospital, she noted the impact nurses had on her mom and sister.

“My hospital visits really opened my eyes to what nursing could do. I witnessed the difference a good nurse had on my mom and Amanda,” says Emily.

One experience was particularly impactful for Emily.

“The first night my mom and sister were home, following the start of her treatment, a nurse stopped by the house to show my mom how to hook up all of the medical equipment. Though I don’t blame the nurse, she breezed through all of the steps and didn’t really make sure my mom was comfortable with what she had to do. Later in the evening, I remember my mom crying at not being able to recall everything. Another nurse came out and did an amazing job educating my mom. More than that, the nurse empowered my mom as a caregiver. I knew that was the kind of nurse I wanted to be,” shares Emily.

As a CHOC hematology/oncology nurse, Emily is steadfastly dedicated to providing her patients’ families with the knowledge and confidence to take care of their children. She works hard to help her patients and families get through treatment and adjust to their “new normal.”  And, just as she was inspired by her sister’s strength, she admires the inspiring resiliency of her patients. She also takes the time to acknowledge her patients’ siblings.

“A cancer diagnosis is tough on everyone and sometimes siblings can get inadvertently left out. I understand siblings’ point of view. I take time to not only ask if they have questions about cancer and involve them in the care—if that’s what they want—but I also ask them about their own interests,” says Emily, who is proud to be part of a team committed to patient- and family-centered care.

Emily’s sister lost her battle to cancer after a brave 12-year fight. Emily had been CHOC hematology/oncology nurse for four years at that point, of which Amanda was very proud. And despite the difficulties that came with having a sister with cancer, Emily’s family was grateful that she found a calling that would positively impact so many other hurting families. Emily can’t imagine doing anything else.

“Even though my sister passed away from her cancer, which was devastating to our family, I feel so strongly that being a pediatric oncology nurse is what I was made to do. I would not want any other job in the world. And I know Amanda wouldn’t want me doing any other job either,” says Emily.

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Lessons Learned During a Senior Year Spent Fighting Cancer

aya

By Claire Nakaki, CHOC Children’s patient

Hello there! My name is Claire Nakaki. I am a freshman in college, but a little over a year ago, I was a soon-to-be high school senior when I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. I was a healthy, active volleyball player and I could not understand why this had happened to me. The initial shock was debilitating; cancer had never been something I saw in my future and certainly not my present. I began chemotherapy the month before school started, knowing that I was going to be completing my senior year of high school from a hospital bed. However, after my head and heart had cleared from the turmoil that my diagnosis had brought upon me, I realized that the upcoming year was really just a year. While cancer was something that I knew was going to affect me for the rest of my life, I refused to let it control my life. My surgeon Dr. Nassif asked me before my big surgery (which removed the tumor and replaced the bone with a prosthesis) to set some goals for the upcoming year. Two prominent goals immediately came to mind: I wanted to walk at graduation with my class, on time, without a walker, a wheelchair, or crutches, and I wanted to attend a four-year university after that. These goals did not seem far off, but I unknowingly delved into the hardest year of my life.

I found myself wanting to meet other patients my age almost immediately, begging the Child Life staff to introduce me to any other teens on the floor. I found so much comfort in knowing that there were other teenagers like me experiencing something similar. While no one’s story is identical, discussing the things we do have in common definitely helps soothe an anxious mind. I attended an AYA (Adolescent and Young Adult) support group meeting in my first few months of treatment and then the next following few months, then as often as I could. I had no idea it was even a support group until almost six months in. It felt more like a group of friends who coincidentally have this one big thing in common rather than a solemn meeting to talk about our hardships. Sure, we occasionally brought up things we were going through when someone needed support, but other than that it was just a safe space to be accepted with open arms. This AYA group has become like a second family to me, a fun group of people in all different stages of treatment and survivorship with whom I feel comfortable discussing anything and everything with. I do not know where I would be in my survivorship without this group of people, as well as the entire Child Life staff and AYA facilitators.

I am often asked if the experience was difficult and if I am sad that I missed my senior year of high school. I always have the same answer. Yes, of course it was difficult. I had no idea how difficult it would be. And I am painfully aware that my treatment went much smoother than most. I stayed on the same treatment plan and had very few bumps along the road. I am sure that my classmates enjoyed their senior year at school, but I would not trade this past year for any other situation. I truly mean that. I have learned so much from the genuinely kind and empathetic people that I met at CHOC, both patients and staff members. I reiterate time and time again that I feel so lucky to have had 17 years of life before cancer entered my life and I know that I have many more to come. I met so many younger kids during my stay at CHOC, mainly just a “hello” in the hallway, but there were a small few that I really got to know personally. These kids hold such a special place in my heart. I served as somewhat of a mentor to a few, due to my age and stage in my treatment, what kinds of procedures I had undergone, and what kinds of machines I was attached to. The kids I got to know made such a huge impact on my general attitude towards life and I truly hope that I made a positive impact on them. One piece of advice that I want everyone who goes through cancer to grasp is that no matter how bad you feel or how hard it is to meet your daily goals, your journey is always just one day at a time. It is so important to remind yourself that every day is just 24 hours. All you have to do is just get through the day. Take every step of the way just one day at a time. Soon enough, you will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

aya

As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, I am now a first-year college student, which means that yes, I did meet my goals. I finished the last step of my treatment and was released from the hospital on June 9th and walked at my graduation without a wheelchair, a walker, or crutches one week later. I was accepted to college in the middle of my treatment, and completed all of my required courses in order to attend in the fall. I achieved these goals with a year of incredibly difficult work and with the unconditional support from my family, friends, and CHOC staff. There will always be things I cannot do because of what happened to me and I still go to physical therapy twice a week and have to take extra precautions in almost everything I do, but I am so happy to be back in the real world, living my new normal.

 Learn more about the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s.

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Oncology Patient Returns to CHOC as Oncology Nurse

In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we share a poem written by Kim, a registered nurse in the hematology/oncology unit at CHOC Children’s, at the time she finished her training. Kim is a cancer survivor and former CHOC patient.

Serendipity

I had no idea what this was going to bring up

All these memories and feelings I have folded so neatly in a cup

Tucked away never again to be touched

Walking back into CHOC, oh how I have forgotten so much

You see, I once had cancer too

I came back as a nurse to see what I could do

I once told my own nurses, now peers, I will be back. Something I am sure they heard before

10 years later I walk through CHOC’s door

As a registered nurse I am proud to be

But I never underestimate the patient that is still inside of me

People have told me it takes certain strength to face it again

“Doesn’t it remind you of all your pain?”

My pain?, I think, I am one of the lucky ones.

I get to come to work and I have fun

I am allowed to make funny faces

I make kids laugh and participate in car chases

I am able to share in life’s precious moments daily

Except for the need of possibly doing a Foley

Even when I am running around like a chicken with no head

I will always take time for that scared kiddo sitting in the bed

There are times when I step back and remember

When that was once me waiting for a cure

This hasn’t been easy, seeing the chemo’s and procedures

And sitting through those late effects lectures

Sometimes when the day has been hard I ask myself, “Why did I pick THIS? What else could I have been?”

But I quickly remind myself I didn’t pick this- it picked me way back when.

I am surrounded by hope, a side people do not see

For I am a proud survivor and now registered nurse of pediatric oncology.

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