Tag Archives: leukemia

Cancer nurse continues to celebrate patient she called “the life of the party”

Rema Sous MaloneRema Sous Malone has worked at St. Louis Children’s Hospital for nearly four years. She started as a patient care technician (PCT) while still earning her nursing degree from St. Louis University, and became a nurse when she received her bachelor’s degree in 2011. She’s still in school, now working toward her graduate degree while caring for patients. As Rema says in this post for From the Bedside, she’s met a number of children who have made an impact on her life, but Mert was extra-special. Meredith would have turned 20 today (September 2), and though she’s not here to mark the occasion, Rema and many others continue to celebrate her life.

Most people say that they choose their profession, but I wholeheartedly believe that my profession chose me.

Becoming a hematology/oncology nurse has been a dream of mine ever since I was a child. I distinctly remember sitting in my room and reading books about a little girl who attended cancer camp. I liked reading about her life and what she was going through. Although I never truly understood the perseverance and hope these children have until I started working with them as a nurse, my passion for caring for them started when I was very young.

My dream became a reality when I was hired to work on the 9th floor immediately after college. Working with these children was everything I had imagined and more, and I am truly honored to care for such wonderful people. When I tell others what I do, I often get the response “How can you do that?” I can quickly reply with, “I can’t imagine doing anything else, working with anyone else.”

Over the last almost 4 years that I have been a nurse, I have cared for many children with all different types of diagnoses. I truly believe that every patient that I have taken care of has impacted me in some way. I would be lying if I said there aren’t challenging days, but the kids and families that I take care of, along with my amazing coworkers, make it all worth it.

thoughtful mertA patient of mine who has taught me many life lessons was Meredith. Meredith was diagnosed with Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia in November 2012 when she was 18 years old. I was assigned to be her nurse the first day she was on our floor. I knew we would quickly become close; her personality was absolutely contagious. I cared for Meredith, also known as “Mert” or “Merty” nearly every shift I worked, becoming closer to her as time went on. Not only did I get to know Meredith during her treatment, but I also grew close to her family. Meredith’s parents and siblings were always at her bedside, caring and fighting fiercely with and for their loved one. Mert not only had the constant support of her family, but also her friends. The love and support of Meredith’s friends during her treatment was incredible. They came after school, to keep her up to date with the latest gossip and fashion (which would then be relayed to me), had Gossip Girl marathons and pizza and movie nights on the weekends. Even fighting cancer, Meredith was the life of the party.

Mert finished her treatment in May, went to prom, attended her high school graduation, and began her summer before she was off to Emory University. Her summer was halted when Mert found out during a routine check-up that her cancer had returned. It was an unbelievably devastating day but, just like before, Mert was determined and courageous and knew she was going to fight back hard, regardless of her fear. During the next several months Mert received more chemotherapy, fought vicious infections, and received a bone marrow transplant. Meredith also spent a lot of her time in the PICU, where I would visit her as often as I could. After a long and challenging several months, Meredith courageously lost her battle in November 2013.

Rema and MeredithAlthough I only knew Meredith for a year, she will forever affect me. There are not enough good things I could say about her. She was thoughtful, beautiful and intelligent. She always knew what was going on with her treatment and her body, and always asked questions. She did homework while stuck in the hospital – often scoring much higher on tests than anyone else in her class – and despite the fact that she was hospitalized most of her senior year, she graduated high school without a problem.

Meredith was a fashionista, a singer, and had a wonderful sense of humor. She always kept me up to date on the latest trends, would sing hours of Taylor Swift with her friends (and often times to Dr. Hayashi), and would walk around the floor talking in the infamous British accent she would break into when on Morphine.

Meredith was genuine, loving, and outgoing. The day that I came in to tell her I was engaged, she wanted to know every detail of the wedding planning.

Meredith was courageous, determined, and fearless. Although she knew she had a tough road ahead of her, especially after her relapse, she never complained, never gave up, and always chose to fight for her life.

Mert Boyers lakeMeredith will never know exactly how much she impacted my life or the lives around her. She may have thought that I was helping her, but in reality, she was helping me in so many ways. Being a hematology/oncology nurse can be challenging, but seeing how I can make a difference in the lives of my patients and their families makes every hard day worthwhile. Their hope, their strength, their courage and their determination is incredible. They are the bravest kids I’ve ever met, never quitting, even after the hardest day. Getting to know my patients and their families keeps me coming back for more. Every patient has impacted my life and career in some way, making me realize I should never take a single day or a single person for granted, and I am truly honored that I can take care of them day after day.

Carter’s Song

Brittany RichardsonBrittany Richardson began working as a nurse at St. Louis Children’s Hospital while she was also finishing her master’s degree.  She’s now a pediatric nurse practitioner with Washington University School of Medicine on the hematology/oncology unit at Children’s.  When she was still a bedside nurse, Brittany met Carter and his family.  She tells From the Bedside about the impact he made on her life, and the difference he continues to make for the patients she treats today.

I have heard people say, “Once you’re born and bred heme/onc, you’re always heme/onc.”  I think it’s really true.  Once you enter this profession and get to know our kids and their families, they become a part of you, and your life changes forever.

I met Carter after I began working on the 9th floor.  He was undergoing treatment for relapsed leukemia.  I got assigned to take care of him several times, and I absolutely fell in love with both Carter and his family.  He was spunky and absolutely adorable.  He was full of joy and giggles, and his family was accepting of me and grew to trust me as their nurse.

Carter and PupPupI can vividly recall a CD that we would play over and over again in his room.  It contained a song that had been written just for him containing his name and lots of things about Carter that made him Carter.  We would sing it over and over again.  I’d always joke with his mom that after a night shift, I would wake up singing that song!

The nurses knew the names of all of the stuffed animals that would share his bed.  They had personalities.  So when you were taking care of Carter, you were also taking care of PupPup and his other fuzzy friends.  He had special blankets too, and we all knew to make sure that Carter’s feet remained poking ever so slightly out of the blankets.  (This became so important in Carter’s final days with us.)  I knew that his mother and father loved that the nurses knew these things about him.  I think that demonstrating our willingness to go the extra mile to make Carter feel at home meant so much to his family.  I also think that knowing the names of stuffed animals is one of the many joys of being a pediatric nurse!

Carter had a lot of serious complications and became very ill.  This was an extremely scary time for his family, but they graciously allowed the 9th floor staff to care for them and provide them with support so that they could focus on being with Carter.  Every shift I spent caring for Carter – even the difficult ones – provided me with so much joy and admiration for the strength that their family had.  Carter was always smiling, even on the difficult days.  I hope that if I were going through what he went through, that I would be as happy and as delightful as he was.

The 9th floor staff is unlike any other.  We truly want to do what’s best for our patients and families and want to get to know them.  We do not simply just want to know your name…it’s more than that.  We want to know what you like to eat or drink when nothing else sounds appealing.  How do you want me to arrange the stuffed animals in your bed when I make your bed each day?  What corny jokes can I tell to make you laugh when you aren’t feeling well?  It is those little things that our floor tries to understand about our patients so that we can make this floor feel like home – because for so many of our kids, this is their home for awhile.

You hear a lot of families say, “you’re like our new family now.”  We value that so much.  Not everyone is drawn to this profession.  It truly takes a special heart.  For me, working in the field of pediatric hematology/oncology is not a job – it’s a calling and a passion, and it’s almost truly sacred.  People hear that you work with children with cancer and they say, “how sad and depressing.”  I think that statement couldn’t be further from the truth!  There are moments of sadness and moments of grief, but with those come so many moments of joy and happiness.  It is an honor to walk with a family during such a time of crisis in their life.

Carter spent his final days in our wonderful Intensive Care Unit.  I would often go visit him before and after shifts to spend time with his family and provide a familiar face.  There were many times that I just quietly sat near Carter and held his hand, or I simply just fluffed his blanket so that his tiny toes were peeking out a bit – just like he always liked them to be.  Carter’s journey ended there, but his warm spirit and loving personality lives on with me and the other staff members who knew him well.  I think we can all say that we are better nurses after caring for him.

Carter in GardenI am so proud and honored to do what I do.  My work isn’t always easy, but it is absolutely always worth it.  The families I have met have changed my life and have made me the nurse that I am today.  Isn’t it amazing that, while going through the hardest time in one’s life, one is able to teach someone so much about love, gratitude, and hope?  That is exactly what Carter and his family did for me.  I smile every time I think of him – especially when Carter’s song pops into my head.  That is one song with a tune and lyrics I will treasure forever and certainly will not ever forget.

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