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Compassion and Passion: Honoring Oncology Nurses Everywhere (Guest Post) 

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As a child, Jennifer was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a rare cancer that originates in the lobes of the liver. While in treatment, Jennifer’s nurse Pat Brophy, who was also ALSF Founder Alex Scott’s nurse, supported Jennifer and her parents through a scary, uncertain time. Pictured above, Jennifer and her nurse, Pat Brophy in 1995.   Today, Jennifer Toth is a pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, an ALSF Center of Excellence institution. She shared her story with us.

By: Jennifer Toth

As a child, Jennifer was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a rare cancer that originates in the lobes of the liver. While in treatment, Jennifer’s nurse Pat Brophy, who was also ALSF Founder Alex Scott’s nurse, supported Jennifer and her parents through a scary, uncertain time. Pictured above, Jennifer and her nurse, Pat Brophy in 1995. 

Today, Jennifer Toth is a pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, an ALSF Center of Excellence institution. She shared her story with us.

“See you later, alligator!”

“In a while, crocodile!”

“Not too soon, baboon!” 

These were the back-and-forth parting words between me and my nurse practitioner, Pat Brophy, at the end of many of our interactions during my treatment for cancer more than 20 years ago. While I don’t remember much from that time due to being so young, these interactions have stayed with me. So has the unique role that Pat had to my family, which is why my decision to become a pediatric oncology nurse was an easy one. 

When I was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma at age two and a half, I was fortunate to have an amazing team providing my care—including my oncologist, my surgeon, many outstanding nurses and countless other hospital staff. I will always be grateful for all of these incredible people, but Pat had an extra special impact on my family. For my parents, who had just learned that their daughter had a softball-sized tumor in her liver and would need months of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, she was not only a source of information but also offered encouragement and support during a terrifying time.    

As I got older, I began to recognize the passion Pat brought to her job and realized that she had the same impact on hundreds of other patients and families (including Alex Scott and her family). Years after treatment, she was one of the first people who encouraged me to consider nursing, mentioned somewhat in passing but taken to heart as I considered potential career paths. Although Pat is no longer alive, her impact and legacy live on through the patients and families on whom she left a lasting impact. I think about her often and I hope to bring a fraction of her dedication and compassion to my role as I care for more kids with cancer. Now I’m a nurse on the oncology unit at the same hospital where I was a patient two decades ago and am back in school to become a nurse practitioner.  

One of the things I love about nursing is that a big part of my role involves teaching kids and their families the information they need to face their diagnosis both while they are in the hospital and at home. While much of each shift is busy with tasks like administering chemotherapy, changing dressings and managing symptoms, the time spent explaining and educating about these topics is just as important. And I love that my patients teach ME things every day, too! 

So Happy Nurses’ Week to nurses everywhere—especially to all of the pediatric oncology nurses who have been my nurses, mentors, teachers and colleagues. And to the families we serve—thank you for the privilege of walking alongside you as you face incredibly difficult circumstances…we don’t take that lightly! 

Jennifer Toth is a childhood cancer survivor and pediatric oncology nurse. She is in graduate school to become a pediatric nurse practitioner and plans to continue working in oncology after graduating later this year. When not working or studying, she enjoys biking, reading and making (and eating!) homemade pasta.