May 09, 2019
cancer patient to cancer nurse
When Katie Hollingsworth was 14 years old, she was given a three percent chance to live after multiple organ failure and seven weeks in a coma due to acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Today, she’s still here, not as a cancer patient, but as a cancer survivor who works as a nurse in hematology/oncology at Dayton Children’s, the same hospital that saved her life nine years ago. Now that it’s nurses week, it’s the perfect opportunity to share an update on her survival and to honor the 900 nurses who work here, including some who cared for Katie during her time here as a patient. Here is her story.
Katie always thought she wanted to be a pediatrician when she grew up, that was until she got cancer. She was surrounded by nurses and doctors for the 264 days that she lived at Dayton Children’s. Within weeks of being admitted, she knew nursing was her future.
“Some of the nurses who took care of me: Rachelle, Kyle, Karen, Gina and Kelly, changed my life forever,” Katie shared. “I’m from New Paris and didn’t have friends close by who could visit me in the hospital. These nurses became my friends and showed me what a great nurse looks like. They led me where I am today.”
Katie almost didn’t apply for the nurse extern program at Dayton Children’s a few years ago. This is a unique program combining on-the-job skills and nursing academics. Katie graduated from Indiana University and knew most of our externs come from Cedarville or Wright State because of their partnership with Dayton Children’s. But she got in and floated everywhere as a PCA to gain experience.
Though she wanted to work in hematology/oncology (hem/onc), there aren’t many new grads that get hired without significant experience because cancer is without a doubt one of the toughest diagnoses.
“I emailed Kate Barrett, the unit manager, and asked if I could interview,” Katie shared. She got the job and has now been a hem/onc nurse for almost a year.
Katie was very emotional her first day though she tried not to show it. “Hem/onc is incredibly complex and there’s so much to learn as a new nurse,” she shared. “I was worried about doing something wrong, but it was actually an uneventful first day!”
Now, Katie is a lot more comfortable in her role, especially once she got to know her patient families.
“Most of the families I take care of at night don’t have any idea I was once a patient here – and that I am actually still a patient in our long-term follow up clinic,” Katie shares. “I only tell them if I think it can benefit their situation.”
Katie recently had a patient who was septic. "I got to tell this mom about my experience, that I’ve been septic twice and I’m here talking to you. She asked me if there was anything she did to cause the sepsis. I told her, ‘Absolutely not, this is just what happens with the treatment sometimes.’”
“My time here really helped define my personality: humor, sarcasm and lightheartedness,” Katie says. “That’s what you get when you’ve survived cancer. You don’t care about the little things because there are so many big things.”
Now, Katie is 23 and she loves being a hem/onc nurse. But this role isn’t her calling forever as clinical research continues to call her name.
During her treatment, Katie underwent five rounds of chemotherapy. But, unlike Katie, many patients didn’t make it through the fifth round. That fifth round is what would typically kill children with her diagnosis.
“My oncologist, Dr. Broxson told me after I survived that they eliminated the fifth round of chemotherapy for AML kids,” she shares. “Can you believe that my cancer protocol hasn’t changed in nine years with the exception of eliminating the fifth round of chemo? That’s why I want to work in clinical research one day. But for now, being a hem/onc nurse is my dream job.”
Many of Katie’s nurses from nine years ago are still at Dayton Children’s. Karen Davis, RN, critical care nurse, equates Katie becoming a hem/onc nurse to a “proud mom” moment.
“Knowing Katie achieved her goal and is now a nurse caring for children with cancer is incredible,” Karen shared. “What an inspiration she is for children, her co-workers and the staff at Dayton Children's. Katie has walked in the children's shoes and knows all too well what is like to have a life-threatening disease. She is kind, thoughtful and just an inspiration in my life. I am so very proud of all she has accomplished and overcome.”
Oddly enough, Katie is thankful she went through cancer.
“Cancer has made me a much stronger person,” Katie shares. “I feel as if I was cheated out of my teenage years, but in an odd way I’m ok with it. If faced with the choice, I wouldn’t take back cancer. Obviously I would take back all the negative side effects, but I wouldn’t take back having cancer. I can't quite explain it, but it has made me grow as a person more than I ever could have without it.”