When Luke Hofmann was in college, he thought about going to medical school. But when it came time to pick a profession, he knew he belonged elsewhere. He went on to nursing school, like his mom and grandmother had done before him. Since then, he has worked on the hematology and oncology unit at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. He shares with From the Bedside his experiences with two remarkable families he’s cared for over the last three years.
During nursing school, I did my pediatric clinical at Children’s and I knew that was where I wanted to work. I enjoy the opportunity to take care of not only the kids, but also their whole family. I’ve always had a tendency to seek out challenges. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity to make an impact. Naturally, working with kids who have cancer presents a lot of challenges, so working in oncology has turned out to be a great fit for me.
While we like for kids to be at home as much as possible, sometimes they just have to be in the hospital. Unfortunately, some kids have to be admitted on the floor for long periods of time. As a nurse, this allows me to get to know some of the families. That’s my favorite part of my job. I enjoy building the relationships with the kids and families. Nothing is more rewarding than gaining the trust of a kid and their family. Cancer is scary. All the medicine, procedures, time in the hospital, etc. is tough stuff. But I enjoy being there for them from the beginning to the end…no matter how it ends. I take a lot of pride in building those trusting relationships with the kids and their families.
I think one of the most important times for an oncology nurse is when a kid gets diagnosed. The families are in shock and their world is turned upside down. I take a lot of pride in being able to give them that bit of reassurance that we are going to do everything we can to help them. When a kid or a parent is having a really rough day, I enjoy being able to go in and sit and talk with them and give them the support they need.
I’ve been at Children’s three-and-a-half years, and I’ve taken care of so many kids that I’ll never forget. They are all inspirational to me. I wish I had time to talk about them all. But there are two that really stick out in my mind, Brandon and Cory.
Brandon was diagnosed with leukemia when I first started as a nurse. In fact, he was one of the first patients I took care of. I could relate to him right from the start. Brandon and I are very similar in many ways (even though he was 6 and I was…well, a lot older). In fact, over the years his mother has come to call him my “brother from another mother.” We both love hockey and we both like to cause a little light-hearted trouble every once in a while. Those are two things that led to our favorite activities in the hospital, hallway hockey and squirt gun fights. What I really liked about Brandon was that he was such a tough kid and that he had this quiet intensity about him. He took on every challenge like it was nothing. And that’s how he fought cancer. You would never even know he had cancer unless he told you. He was determined to not let it hold him back. It’s inspiring to see such toughness and determination from a kid who was just 6 years old at the time.
While Brandon was receiving treatment, I became good friends with him and his family. Brandon is now 10 years old and doing great. The past two years, he has helped me raise money for the St. Baldrick’s charity (which focuses on funding research for pediatric cancer) by shaving my head. Last fall, Brandon finished the last of his treatments. When kids are done with therapy, they get to ring a big bell we have hanging up to celebrate. Watching Brandon ring the bell is one of my favorite moments in life.
The other kid I always think of is my friend Cory. Cory was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in the fall of 2010. He was the sweetest kid. He was always very calm and had this gentleness to him. He was the biggest Cardinal fan I’ve ever met. I loved hearing him talk about the Cardinals. They could have never won a game, and he would have been cheering for them anyway. And, I swear, in 2011 when the Cardinals were 10 games out of a playoff spot late in the season, he predicted they would win the World Series. Cory had the best smile when he was laughing. He would try not to laugh at my dumb jokes but he put up with me, and when I could get him to laugh, it always made my day.
One of the things I loved most about Cory was his family. He had his mom, dad and sister, and they were awesome. Cory was the best big brother to his sister, who he always looked out for. His sister would be bouncing off the walls and he would just roll his eyes at her, but they adored each other. His mom was always very composed and tough and his dad was such an incredible dad. I’ve never seen a father and son as close to each other as they were. They took great care of him. That family always amazed me. It’s humbling just to see how tough and composed they were.
Unfortunately, Cory lost his battle to cancer in July 2012. I had the privilege of taking care of him and his family during some of his last days, including the day he passed away. Days like that are incredibly tough as a nurse, but it is truly a privilege to be there for families during those times. Words can’t express how honored I am to have gotten to know Cory and to have been his friend.
Brandon and Cory are just two of the kids that I think of every day. There are so many more, too. I could go on and on about these kids. They are just so amazing. Occasionally people will ask me, “Isn’t it hard not to take it home?” I always ask them, “Why wouldn’t I take it home?” If I didn’t take it home with me, I don’t think I would be doing my job very well. There is certainly a degree of separation one must have at times as a nurse, but I don’t go into work to clock in for 12 hours and then go home. I want to be there for these kids. I’m invested in them and their fight. I am inspired on a daily basis by the kids I get to take care of. The day that I don’t “take it home” with me to an extent is the day that I will look for another job. These kids and their families deserve the best from me.
I work with some amazing people. We are always asked how we can work with kids with cancer because, “It’s so sad.” I think each nurse has his or her own response to that, but it’s generally a question I just brush off. It’s a calling. It’s something I don’t think twice about. Is it sad at times? Yes, but it’s also inspiring. If I have a sad day at work, it only makes me more motivated to come back the next day. I’ve seen so many amazing moments of humanity, it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. Why wouldn’t I do this job? I don’t ever question my choice in career. I can’t see myself doing anything else, to be honest.
So when people ask me why I do what I do, it’s an easy answer. It’s for the kids. It’s for Brandon. It’s for Cory. It’s for all the kids I get to take care of. I am lucky to have this job and get to be around these kids and their families everyday.