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.
“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.
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!”