Jennifer Toth and her nurse, Pat Brophy, in 1995.
By: Trish Adkins
Jennifer Toth was just 2-and-a-half years old when she was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a rare liver cancer. Her nurse, Pat Brophy, was not only a medical caregiver to Jennifer, but also a source of encouragement and support to her parents.
“Years after treatment, Pat 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,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer followed in the footsteps of her beloved nurse and is an oncology nurse at the same hospital where she received treatment.
For children battling cancer, nurses play a central role in their day-to-day treatment. They are the managers of their care — whether it’s the critical hours around surgery or the in-patient weeks spent on the oncology floor or the days at the oncology day clinic. Nurses are usually the ones to navigate children through the early days of learning what cancer is and through the previously unknown world of port care and short-term treatment side effects.
Oncology nurses lead parents, too, through the cancer journey — answering questions, chatting late night at the bedside, helping to find answers from the medical care team and providing emotional support through the darkest moments.
In honor of National Nurses Week, here are five stories from nurses who are making a difference for children with cancer:
In the book, Alex and the Amazing Lemonade Stand, there is a picture of a woman on crutches. This character was based on one of Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) founder, Alex Scott’s favorite nurses, a woman named Lisa. Alex did not want to have her port accessed by nurses that didn’t know how to do it as well as Lisa did. Lisa was not just a nurse, she was also a childhood cancer hero. First, she battled Ewing’s sarcoma when she was 10. Then in college, Lisa relapsed with osteosarcoma and lost her leg to the disease. As an adult, she battled cancer twice more — beating it each time.
During Alex’s treatment for neuroblastoma, the Scotts had so many wonderful experiences with nurses that helped Alex, as well as their family, cope throughout the treatments. Two days before Alex passed away, her medical team suggested they meet with a hospice nurse at their home. Alex’s parents, Liz and Jay, had little interest in meeting with a hospice nurse, but the next day Gail came to their home and helped them when they needed it the most.
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 Alex’s nurse) supported Jennifer and her parents through a scary, uncertain time.
Today, Jennifer is a pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, an ALSF Center of Excellence institution. She shared her story with us.
Taylor knows exactly what nurses can mean to their patients. Diagnosed at 11 years old with osteosarcoma, Taylor was once a cancer patient herself, relying on the nurses as a support system.
“The nurses helped me. They were my family away from home,” says Taylor, who studied to become a pediatric nurse. Today, Taylor is all grown-up, married and a pediatric nurse herself.
Cass Butler was just 10 when her brother was diagnosed with childhood cancer. That experience changed the entire trajectory of her life.
“I didn’t understand because he looked and felt fine,” remembers Cass.
The hospital became a home away from home for Cass and her family. A nurse showed Cass how a blood transfusion worked and let Cass pretend to be a nurse, too.
In that moment, 10-year-old Cass decided she’d become a nurse when she grew up.
Today, that decision has become a reality. Cass is 24 years old and a nurse.
National Nurses Week occurs each May. At Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, we know the critical role nurses play in the quality of life and care of children battling cancer, their siblings and their parents. ALSF has awarded several nursing grants for both early career nurse researchers and independent and experienced nurse researchers who are searching for better ways to care for children undergoing cancer treatment. Learn more about past nursing grants program recipients and their funded projects here.