By Jackie Davenport
My desire to become an oncology nurse began when I was 11 years old; like many children at that age I was struggling to discover who I would become. When my mother explained her breast cancer diagnosis to me, our very peaceful world froze for a moment. I grew up rurally in South Pomfret, VT, on many miles of dirt road that led to a beautiful, cozy little house. The idyllic world I lived in suddenly changed; although I could support my mother emotionally with compassion and love, others were working medical miracles to keep her well. Witnessing this, I discovered the deep desire to make an impact in others’ lives through pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing and a career in oncology.
Curiosity made me my mother’s chemotherapy and radiation companion. I loved the high-tech atmosphere and the warmth of the nurses who focused on my mother while she was receiving treatment. They answered questions reassuringly, exuded confidence, and responded with good humor and professionalism. Particularly impressive was the day a nurse took me by the hand and walked me through the radiation area, describing the equipment and carefully explaining what this treatment was doing to help eradicate the cancer. It seemed so science fiction to a small girl not yet exposed to the world of disease treatment, yet the nurse gave me confidence that caring, intelligent professionals were treating my mom.
It wasn’t long after my mother’s cancer went into remission that I experienced two other family members’ diagnoses. My grandfather had multiple, long-fought battles with skin cancer and ultimately lost his life; what he left behind were cherished memories of a kind, honest, intelligent and patient man. He would often recite a poem titled “Don’t Quit” from a plaque in his office; I have carried the plaque to each year of college. With the plaque, I carried his strong sense of accountability, a kind heart, and patience in even the most difficult situations.
It was my aunt’s advanced breast cancer diagnoses, at age 41, which solidified my desire to pursue a career in pediatric oncology. Throughout her life, it seemed her greatest aspiration was to be a mother, and she was blessed with four magnificent children. I admired her maternal strength and determination to raise them her own way. Above all, my aunt was full of life; her radiant smile could brighten the darkest of rooms. To leave behind four children was devastating, yet I can only imagine her heartbreak had the diagnosis been for one of her children. When I imagine a family discovering their child has cancer, I can empathize with those complex emotions. Families who are on the journey to recovery are at their most vulnerable; I see it as a true honor to be allowed into their lives in the midst of their biggest challenge.
Answering the Call of Nursing
Coming home to my quaint town, I see friends, family, and neighbors who all ask, “How is college?” or “Why did you choose nursing?” Fortunately for me, it’s a simple answer: My past personal encounters with oncology have led me to pursue a specific path. However, my desire to become a nurse stems from elsewhere.
Merriam-Webster defines a calling as “a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action.” My calling is nursing; it’s the only profession I will ever consider. My interests’ lie deeply rooted in science and medical technology, yet my desire to care for others stems from my family and the beautiful community I was raised in. Living in a small town where everybody knows each other, you lend a helping hand wherever it is needed; from this strong sense of community, I gathered an innate ability to work as a team. I look forward to seeing this in play at Boston Children’s Hospital this summer, as I take part in the Susan D. Flynn Oncology Nursing Fellowship I received during my recent semester at the University of Rhode Island.
Advocating for Pediatric Patients’ Future
I absolutely love children. Young children look at and think of the world through a lens that seems to fade as we age. Every child deserves an opportunity to live and grow into whatever bright future he or she has imagined; I hope to advocate for not only my patients’ health, but also their future.
When I was still a child, cancer didn’t affect me physically; however, it affected my life very deeply. I recognize that the medical team helped not just patients, but also their family. I think being a part of a family being treated for cancer has allowed me to empathize with patients and families in similar situations, leading to providing more competent care. The empathy I feel toward patients and families can be taken one step further into treating them with the same compassion I received from those who treated my own family.
What drew me to pediatric oncology specifically at BCH were the same curiosities that led me to my mother’s radiation and chemotherapy treatment. The highly advanced medical atmosphere, filled with a diverse patient and employee population that upholds excellence in all that they do, beckoned me. Every now and then I would drive by Boston at night as a child, and as I grew older, the drive would be on my way to the University of Rhode Island; I knew in the heart of that city was where I belonged. Working alongside others with compassionate hearts and innovative minds, I would find my place caring for pediatric patients with cancer and their families.
Learning and Growing Through a Fellowship
In the past, my hospital exposure has been limited to that of patient or student; I look forward to being in a hospital as a fellow, and acquiring new knowledge in a different role. As a part of the program, we have exposure to clinical research and trials; this will fulfill my immense desire for gaining in-depth knowledge about current research. In addition, I look forward to gaining experience alongside BCH’s employees on the floor and at various internal oncology-related forums. Outside of the more scientific knowledge I wish to gain, I look forward to enhancing my inter- and intrapersonal communication with patients and their families, as well as learning about the provided patient family support programs.
Following Your Instincts
As I have said, this is my calling, and I am not the only one who believes so! My clinical professor and mentor, Maureen Hillier, RN, DNP, also refers to a career in pediatric oncology as a calling. To other aspiring nurses and nursing students, I would like to say: explore. Explore the many different nursing fields, and enjoy every class and clinical you take; the years fly by faster than I could have ever imagined. During that time, I discovered areas of nursing that truly inspired me; however, I have always felt an insurmountable pull toward pediatric oncology. If you feel the same way, I would suggest following your instincts. I hear that as a nurse you should always do so.