Through My Eyes: What I See in Kids Fighting Cancer as a Pediatric Oncology Nurse

Through My Eyes is a series in which those affected by childhood cancer share a behind-the-scenes look into what it’s like to be in their shoes.  Read every perspective. Become aware and donate to help create solutions for kids fighting rare pediatric cancer. 

  • Perspective: Pediatric Oncology Nurses
  • Hospital: Levine Children’s Hospital

When you walk through something like a diagnosis of childhood cancer with a family, there’s an intimacy that develops.  You not only see the bad and horrific things childhood cancer can do…. you also see all the good that cancer can’t cover up.  Several pediatric oncology nurses were featured on our social channels (Instagram & Facebook) on 9/20/19 to share their thoughts on what they see in their kids and families fighting cancer.

Cathryn Jordan, BSN, RN, CPHON ® , Clinical supervisor, pediatric hematology/oncology/BMT, Levine Children’s

#ThroughMyEyes | Cathryn Jordan

“I see bravery not just in these amazing kids but in their parents. The parents who smile and hold hands and comfort these amazing little people! I’m always in awe of how much so many of these parents and families GIVE not only to their littles, but to the caregiver team, to the cause, and to each other amidst one of the greatest storms of their own lives. They smile, they encourage, they spread awareness, and they FIGHT through hope and love with everything they have. They show me what bravery is each and every day!”

#ThroughMyEyes | Nurse Sarah Sadler

Sarah Sadler, Levine Children’s Outpatient Oncology

“When I first graduated nursing school, I’ll admit I was selfish. My initial thoughts on wanting to be a pediatric oncology nurse were focused on how my own experience as a childhood cancer survivor myself would help others. But once I started caring for these amazing, resilient patients, my perspective completely shifted as they were the ones truly helping me instead.

As a nurse, when you meet a new patient and their family, their life has truly been twisted upside down and you initially think that in their mind, they are thinking you are just another person they interact with among the countless others in the medical field. But after you have introduced yourself and spent a few moments with them – this is not the case. They welcome you into their family and show you how much they care about you as you spend the day caring for them. Each week when you see them, you catch up for a moment as you ask how they are doing and they ask about you and your family – you build an awesome relationship like no other. This can mean meeting a patient’s new stuffed animal they brought with them to clinic this week because it makes all that’s going on around them a little less scary. Or even spending a few extra minutes with your patient that has written everything down in a memory book to tell you all about their week because their disease is hurting their memory but they want you to share in their joyful moments. Nurses all know what it means to celebrate alongside our families with the good, cry alongside them with the bad, and sometimes just truly hate cancer and what it is doing to these beautiful children. And that’s what keeps us going each day, is having the honor and privilege to be the one to provide the best care possible each day to these unbelievably strong and inspiring patients.

So I would have to admit, I am still a bit selfish because I am so grateful for the phenomenal impact this career has had on my life. It is extraordinary how these kids are making me a better person by sharing their stories, hearts, and strength with me each and every day. The love and compassion I have for my patients and their families is given right back as they allow me into their lives, to help fight alongside them, and work every day to bring more awareness to childhood cancer so we may one day be rid of it entirely!”

#ThroughMyEyes | Nurse Sarah Boyd

“My name is Sarah and I have worked on LCH 11 (inpatient hematology/oncology/BMT) for more than 8 years. In my 8 years I have come in contact with dozens of amazing children who are resilient fighters who have touched so many people in so many ways. 

Sarah Boyd, RN II, Levine Children’s Inpatient Oncology

All of us on the unit refer to the patients as “our kids,” because that’s exactly what they are! They are fragile – yet strong; small – yet mighty; sick – yet thriving; and they are wonderful blessings to all of us! 

I will never forget one sweet girl who knew her days were limited. She pushed through, was more positive than anyone in the room, and all she wanted was for her parents to have a wedding like they had dreamed of. There she was, not wanting a trip or gift for herself. Instead, something for her loving family. So what did we do – we had a wedding! Dresses, flowers, cake, you name it! What a selfless desire and request that truly made her heart happy. 

You see, that’s what’s amazing about our patients. They may be sick, they may be receiving chemo and blood, but they don’t care. They have games to play. They have pictures to color. They have wagons to ride in. And smiles to make on their face and to everyone around. 

The days are long, hard, trying and difficult. Yet beautiful and something we would all never change. I have a heart embedded in mine, and he takes me to work everyday and my love for him is something that will never change. 🎗” 

#ThroughMyEyes | Nurse Kelsey Sigman

“When people ask me what I do for a living, I usually just say “I’m a nurse.” I hate the looks and the sad “awww’s” I get when I explain what kind of nurse I am. Don’t get me wrong, being a peds cancer and blood disorders nurse is one of my greatest accomplishments. But everyone’s response is the same: “isn’t that so sad?” Or, “wow that’s got to be so hard for you,” or “I don’t know how you do it. You’re such a special person to do a job like that.” 

Kelsey Sigman, RN, Levine Children’s Inpatient Oncology

My response is always, “it’s hard, and it’s sad to watch these amazing kids go through what they go through, to watch their mamas and daddy’s wish they could change everything about what is happening in this specific moment, to see brothers and sisters terrified for what’s going on. But the reality is that they are living it. They are the ones who are special, and resilient and brave.” 

The truth is that I don’t feel special seeing tears stream down a 6-year-old’s face while I access their port. It makes me feel terrible. Holding down a kiddo to make them take medicine because their fevers just won’t come down makes me feel like the worst nurse in the world. But when I go home at the end of each work day, I look back and I say “gosh that kid was so brave.” Regardless of how hard they fought me or how many tears they cried, they got through it. They got through it AND still smiled at me the next time I came in the room. Those smiles are what makes it all worth it. 

We, as nurses, give chemo and other meds that make these kids feel miserable, and that moment for them of feeling good for even just 1 second, changes everything. It gives us a purpose. I think all the nurses I work with would agree that if we can make one of our kiddos smile by the end of the day, we’ve accomplished something greater than we ever thought we could. 

These families become our families, they know my husband’s name, my daughter’s name, they even know my dog’s name. While I hate that my job is a job that even exists, I love what I do more than anything. I’m so honored and humbled to take care of our kids and their families during the hardest times of their lives.”

[#ThroughMyEyes | Nurse Jordan Sullivan]

Jordan Sullivan, RN, Levine Children’s Inpatient Oncology

“This job is hard. What these brave warriors do every single day is harder. 

I have known I wanted to be a pediatric oncology nurse since I was 12. My best friend’s brother was diagnosed with cancer, and it was devastating. I watched the nurses. I watched as they comforted not only him but his family. I will never forget when he had to be admitted late one night for a fever. In the midst of packing up their stuff to go to the hospital he said “I hope my favorite nurse is there, I can’t wait to show her my new shoes.” In that exact moment, I knew what I wanted to be. I wanted to be that tiny bright spot for every disappointed kiddo having to come back to the hospital, again. 

I take pride in getting to be what a patient and their family needs, a hug, a laugh, a dance party or source of light on their darkest day. 

You see, these kids go through it! The port accesses, the nausea, the vomiting, the mouth sores so bad they won’t talk or swallow. But do you want to know what part really blows me away? Their joy! Their little giggles! Their resiliency! 

I have watched a grown man cry over a shot and had a 3 year old giggle and not even look up from her iPad. The thing is, these kids define their situation, they don’t let their situation define them. 

From the outside pediatric oncology might seem like a sad place to work. Don’t get me wrong: it has its days. But it’s also where we celebrate everything, no matter how small. Because their wins are our wins. 

Every day I go to work I am honored. Honored to work with such an amazing team, honored to serve these families and to be a small part of their fight against such a horrible disease. 

I thought I would be able to bring a little happiness to these kids and their families but little did I know they bring me more smiles and inspiration than I could ever bring them. It is an honor and a privilege to be their nurse.”

#ThroughMyEyes | Nurse Jodie Walsh 

“In the words of a parent…

‘My child’s bravery is written all over their body from the scars cancer gave him.’

My pediatric patients show their bravery by simply coming through the door to Levine Cancer Institute and the department of radiation oncology. And they continue to walk through that door everyday they have treatment even, when they do not really understand what is happening and why. Kids lack the ability to mentally prepare for an uncomfortable situation, showing bravery in their ability to trust the folks committed to taking care of them through each phase of treatment.

Jodie Walsh, RN, Levine Cancer Institute in Radiation Oncology

They allow this stranger to access their port with a sharp needle, to take blood from their body, to assist with the awful smelling gas that we give our little guys to put them asleep, and to carry them to the treatment table, help position them on that table in a low-lit room and then walk out and leave them all alone on that table for 10-15 minutes while an invisible beam of radiation treats their cancer. That’s incredibly brave!

I am not going to lie, I have many times over the years thought “I just cannot continue to do this job anymore, it is way too hard…” and it is. I have children and a new granddaughter, every pediatric cancer patient’s situation is very relatable, right? I mean, it is not your child until it is. (I stole that line from a mom with crocodile tears in her eyes thinking about her son and the fact that he is her only child and she could not image having another child because she has never known what it is like to have a healthy child). 

Let’s face it radiation therapy is not a modality that treats all children with cancer. The children we treat often are the most acutely ill and as much as I want every single child to win their battle with this devastating disease, sadly it doesn’t always happen. My inspiration is HOPE. Hope that my love shows through and the care I give makes a difference in the children’s lives while they are having radiation treatment, HOPE that we have turned a corner in research and figured it all out. HOPE that this treatment has made a difference in the quality of time for both the children fighting cancer and their parents who fight right along side of them.”

Let’s give a little more HOPE to kids fighting cancer and all those fighting along side them. This is childhood cancer… are you Aware? 
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*** THROUGH MY EYES: THIS IS CHILDHOOD CANCER SERIES

9/2:  We Have Stopped Making You Aware

9/3:  Through My Eyes: This is Childhood Cancer 

9/3:  Through My Eyes: What Cancer Leaves Behind

9/4:  Through My Eyes: Day In the Life Of Kellie Andrew, Warrior Mom Fighting to Save Her Child From Neuroblastoma

9/5:  Through My Eyes: Behind the Scenes with Aaron Plummer, Dad to RhabdomyosarcomaWarrior

9/6:  Through My Eyes: What My Child About Cancer, What Really Scares This Cancer Mom

9/8:  Through My Eyes: Week 1 Results

9/9:  Through My Eyes: Behind the Mind of a Teenager Fighting Cancer & Social Anxiety

9/11:  Through My Eyes: What It’s Like to be a Young Adult Living With Cancer

9/13: Through My Eyes: What It’s Like to be a Young Adult Supporting a Loved One With Cancer

9/15: Through My Eyes: Week 2 Results

9/17: Through My Eyes: Behind the Scenes With Charlotte Pediatric Oncologist, Dr. Oesterheld

9/19: Through My Eyes: What It’s Like to Help Kids Understand & Cope With a Cancer Diagnosis