Laura Shinn was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer, at the age of 6.
As an adult, she decided to go into nursing and work at the same hospital she received treatment.
This is her story, as told to PollyAnna Brown.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Laura Shinn, a 42-year-old oncology nurse at Children's Hospital New Orleans, in Louisiana. It has been edited for length and clarity.
My mom spent Mother's Day 1987 worrying about me; I was 6 years old at the time and had been dealing with cold-like symptoms, including a stuffy nose and congestion, for about a week. She decided to use one of those tiny bulb syringes to see if she could suction out some of whatever was causing some of the congestion. In the process, she sucked a mass to the end of my nostril so it was visible, but it didn't come out of my nose.
She immediately took me to urgent care, and from there, we ended up at an ENT — an ear, nose, throat specialist, officially called an otolaryngologist — who did a biopsy later in the week. It turned out to be an embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer.
This particular kind of cancer can show up in different places; mine just happened to appear in my left sinus cavity. Because of how close it was to my brain, the tumor was considered inoperable. The recommended course for me was chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation.
My mom was told the best place for me to get treatment was Children's Hospital New Orleans. My treatment ended one day before my ninth birthday, in 1989.
Children's Hospital New Orleans became my second home
Over my two years of treatment, the hospital became home. The nurses and staff who worked there and the other patients and their families all became my friends. I knew everyone's ins and outs, and interacting with hospital staff and other patients became my new normal.
One of my nurses who started out at Children's Hospital with me became a home health nurse, which allowed me to receive chemo at home. She and I are still very close to this day. Our connection inspired me to explore medicine; I realized that healthcare providers can be a big part of our lives and how important it is for people who truly care to be in the field.
I went to nursing school at Mississippi College in Clinton, Mississippi, when I was 22. When I graduated in May 2005, I applied for a nursing position at Children's Hospital since it held such a special place in my heart. There weren't any positions available in hematology-oncology, so I took a position in another unit.
After the first day of orientation, Hurricane Katrina hit. The hospital stayed closed for a couple of weeks, and when it reopened, my unit was not operational right away. The hurricane had also displaced many of the nurses, and some weren't able to return to their positions following the storm. This created open positions in the hematology-oncology unit, and the manager asked me if I was still interested in working there. Of course, my answer was yes.
I began work in that unit in autumn 2005 as a floor nurse and stayed in that role until April 2019. Then I took a position as a hematology-oncology nurse navigator, taking care of bone-marrow-transplant patients, and I've been in that role ever since. I'm also working on becoming certified as a hematopoietic-stem-cell-transplant or bone-marrow-transplant nurse; I have interest in both, and both are important.
Now I get to be there for other kids and their families
When I was a floor nurse, some families were in the hospital for weeks. Whether they were there receiving chemo or for complications from their treatments, it was my job to care for them day in and day out. Seeing to their needs on this level created a special bond.
Now I spend more time working in the outpatient clinic. There are kids who've received transplants, and we see those patients every year until they're 22. It feels like you kind of grow up with them, and you get to watch their major milestones and accomplishments. Whether you're following their journey for two years or 22 years, you really build a connection.
Forming bonds with those patients and helping them go through this experience — which I know can be scary — is a privilege and an honor. But being able to help them see the brighter side of things is so important.
It's crucial to remind them that going through this one needle stick, this one round of chemo, or this one transplant is part of a larger story and not the whole thing. Helping patients consider the other side of treatment and what's waiting for them afterward — reminding patients that they can move beyond this — is the best part of what I do.
I get to be an example for patients that cancer does not define them. It's just part of their journey. And that is a gift.
Read the original article on Insider