By: Trish Adkins
When her brother Jimmy was being treated for leukemia, a nurse showed Cass Butler how a blood transfusion worked and let Cass pretend to be a nurse, too.
In that moment, Cass, who was just 10-years-old, decided she’d become a nurse when she grew up.
Today, that decision has become a reality. Cass is 23 years old and a nurse working with COVID-19 patients in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Her journey to nursing began with her 7-year-old brother’s routine bloodwork, which revealed he had myelodysplastic syndrome that had evolved into leukemia. Cass spent the night with her family at a hospital 2 hours away from their home while her brother underwent testing.
“He didn’t understand because he looked and felt fine,” remembers Cass.
Chemotherapy treatment followed, and the hospital became a home away from home for Cass and her family. Every evening, Cass, her other brother and father would make the drive to the hospital for dinner as a family. Cass knew all the places to hide and the best treats to get at the hospital.
“Pediatric cancer changes a family in a way nothing else really can. I’ve had a deep appreciation for the value of life since that year, “ said Cass.
Eventually, Jimmy needed a bone marrow transplant, and Cass was a perfect match. Cass joined her brother’s journey — enduring endless lab work. She had surgery to extract her bone marrow, taking a donation from both her hips. The procedure left Cass with some sciatic nerve damage.
"My twinges of pain now, over a decade later, just remind me what it was all for. I’d do all again in a heartbeat," said Cass.
Cass’s brother graduated from college this spring, cancer-free.
Cass’s nursing career has involved working in neuroscience and psychiatry, but the pandemic shifted her work to patients with COVID-19. She feels her experience as a sibling of a child with cancer, as well as a bone marrow donor, has given her the ability to build bonds with her patients.
In addition to her nursing work, Cass is also an ambassador for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation through the SuperSibs program, which offers support to siblings of children with cancer.
For Cass, volunteering through the Foundation gives her an opportunity to be a beacon of light for siblings — she sees them because she was them.
“Sometimes it’s easy for siblings to get lost in the shuffle of having a sick kid in the family. It is not anyone’s fault; it’s just a reality,” said Cass, “That’s what makes SuperSibs so nice because it celebrates ALL kids in the family. This is nothing any kid should have to go through. I think any effort put into making this experience a little better or getting closer to finding effective treatments is worth every penny.”
We understand that childhood cancer affects the whole family, not only the child who receives the diagnosis. SuperSibs is dedicated to comforting, encouraging, and empowering siblings during their family’s battle against childhood cancer so they can face the future with courage and hope. Learn more at SuperSibs.org.