They are the bright spots, the smiles, the caring, the hope, at the time they are needed most. Many parents of children with pediatric cancer refer to them as “angels.” “They” are pediatric oncology nurses, and in May, CURE Childhood Cancer honors them and thanks them for being the special people they are.
Of course, they are trained to save children’s lives, to administer the chemotherapy which will hopefully get the child into remission and cured. But with an illness which is often life-threatening, these nurses go “above and beyond” the call. Sherri Ohmstede, Customer Service Liaison at the Scottish Rite campus of the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, says she is “honored” to walk alongside these nurses every day.
Pediatric cancer affects the entire family. Often, the parents are more emotionally devastated than the patients themselves. The nurses are a huge source of help and comfort to parents as well.
“I have seen a nurse spend 45 minutes at the end of a very long and exhausting day, explaining the day’s events to a very concerned family, or simply listening and empathizing with the family. Often, this love and support is exactly what the family desperately needed at that very moment,” Sherri says.
Dayna and Alan Thomson lost their beautiful daughter Hayley to cancer in 2004. But memories of their wonderful caregivers during that difficult time remain in their hearts. Here is a passage about their nurses from a blog Dayna wrote while Hayley was in the hospital in August, 2004.
“We feel privileged to count many of these women as our friends. These are the women who made the hospital FUN for Hayley. The ones who put a piece of candy in the candy jar every day just for her, who played ‘peek a boo’ with her in the halls. The ones who made having her temperature and blood pressure taken fun. The ones who made such a fuss over Hayley that you would think she was the ONLY child in the hospital.”
“And here’s the thing…They do this for EVERY child. Their hearts are HUGE.”
Bethany Lasky switched from being a labor and delivery nurse to pediatric oncology. She is now at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. She says this job is exactly where she is supposed to be.
“You are there for the heartaches and for the victories. Children are so resilient and have such an incredible spirit. They ultimately just want to be kids. I could easily talk for hours about why I chose pediatric oncology and even more why I continue to love it.”
Sarah Goldberg is a pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. She says she wouldn’t want to work anywhere else. The greatest gift of her job, according to Sarah, is helping families who are always overwhelmed at first by the diagnosis and treatment, to “find their way.” Sarah says she is in awe of how a parent who looks so scared and confused in the first few weeks is an “old pro” at the treatment protocol in no time. That said, the job has some devastating moments.
“There is no question that the difficult conversations are heart-wrenching and rough. There is no easy way to sit with a family and tell them their child’s cancer has come back and there isn’t anything else we can give them. These kids have done everything we have asked of them and they have fought long, hard fights. They inspire me to keep life in perspective and remind me daily what is truly important in life.”
Jennifer Williamson believes that at times, pediatric oncology nurses are divinely inspired. Jen lost her precious son, Jack, to cancer in May of 2011, after a courageous battle on the little boy’s part. Among her memories of that heartbreaking time for her and her family, she has a beautiful recollection of Jack’s special nurses.
“We heard Jack’s last breaths on May 18th, 2011. And while it was unthinkable, we never felt alone. And in many ways, because of our experience with the nurses at Aflac, our faith was shored up even stronger. With gratitude, we thank God for ALL the spectacular nurses of Aflac who helped us through one of the most profoundly painful, yet beautiful seasons of our lives. Nurses who care for children with cancer, offer gifts of the souls that forever alter the patients and families within their care. That divine level of excellence can never be taught.”
Nurse’s Week was May 6-12. This year, CURE Childhood Cancer honored the pediatric oncology nurses with special treats and recognition on social media sites. It’s a small way to say thanks to these wonderful people who give so much and work so hard to help the kids and their families touched by cancer.