Nurses use past personal experience with cancer to help current child patients

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Three Willett Children's Hospital pediatric cancer nurses are childhood cancer survivors themselves

Sad, happy, excited or scared. Pediatric nurses have to deal with all the range of emotions in their young cancer patients.

At the Willet Children’s Hospital at Memorial Health in Savannah, three nurses have an even more special bond with their patients, the kids they call “superheroes”, because they can relate to them.

All three women are childhood cancer survivors themselves.

“They trust us with their baby, some less than a year old and we love them like they are our own,” said Andi Reid, a pediatric nurse. “Our child, our sibling. We love those kids like nothing else.”

“Even if it is a day where you are not having such a great shift or maybe your patients is not going the way you want them to go,” explains Melissa Robinson, a pediatric nurse. “You are still that person who can hold their hand and tell them it is ok. Whether its the next five minutes, we got you.”

“Not all our kids will end up having happy stories but we are here for the ones that do and we are trying to give everyone a happy ending that is able to have one,” said Liliana Haas, a pediatric nurse.

“There will be some of the sickest kids who want to do your hair and nails and makeup,” smiles Reid. “You come out looking like I don’t know what. But you let them have the time of their lives doing it.”

“We may go into a patient’s room and they may not remember that we know that day they were very sick,” said Andi. “But they remember that day they got to paint our nails or do your hair, They don’t know they were that sick, they just know they didn’t feel that good.”

“We live for the times when we get to come out of the room and tell our coworkers something funny that happened, a happy story or something,” said Reid. “But then you have days where you try to hold it together until you get to the car and lose it.”

“The defining moment that I decided I was going to be a nurse was the day my hair fell out,” said Melissa. “We (she and Andi) both say that’s something I remember.”

“It is up to us to say (to the kids) look, we did it and they can do it too,” said Melissa. “And it is not up to the parent to be the bad guy, it can be us.”

“A lot of the same treatments they are going through I received myself as a 3- year-old,” says Liliana. “I kind of am able to show them there is life after cancer.”

“They think they are the only people they know going through childhood cancer and then you say actually I do know,” says Andi. “They go what, no way?”

“It is not always a force to put it on, but some days you have to talk yourself through it remember when we were in the bed and we had that one nurse that was kind of snippy or whatever.”

“It is hard emotionally but you have to put on the brave face no matter how sick they are you kind of know what they are going through,” says Andi.”and its important for us as nurses to put on the happy face and give them encouragement, because a lot of times they don’t see it because they feel so bad.”
“Now when I have those kids I will say I know how much this stinks and you have mouth sores and it hurts but take these pills and it is one day closer to being out of the hospital,” says Melissa.

“We are happy you are walking out of the hospital you are going to live a happy healthy life but we are going to miss you,” Liliana says about the success stories with her patients. “It is like losing a part fo your family.

“Day one when they get here they don’t think there’s an end in sight and then watching them leave is just amazing,” smiles Melissa.

“It’s not an if we are going to cure, it is a when,” explains Andi.”We are going full force to cure your child. There’s really no other option.”

“There’s hope,’ Liliana says is her message to childhood patients,.”Its tough right now but you will get through it. Keep fighting. stay strong. We are your biggest cheerleaders.”

The nurses and doctors have an especially tough job because only 3% of the money for cancer treatments are directed at childhood cancer research.

Some of these nurses had some of the same drugs during their treatment two decades or more ago as their patients do today.

If you would like to help fight the disease and aid kids’ fight and kids cancer research go to: https://curechildhoodcancer.org/

For more information about the Dwaine and Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital: https://memorialhealth.com/service/childrens-hospital

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