I’m very excited to share a truly special guest post with you all today. Kim Bira is a two-time childhood leukemia survivor whose journey led her to become a pediatric oncology nurse.
When I was being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia twice as a child, the days I spent in the oncology clinic at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha outnumbered the days I spent anywhere else.
Each day I arrived at the clinic, I looked forward to seeing my nurse, Anisa. I watched her in awe as she diligently cared for me and my family, both physically and emotionally.
She is a comforter, a listener, a cheerleader, and a source of deep knowledge who gives hope to families during a nearly impossible time. Her compassion is neverending, as is her ability to positively influence each family she meets.
It was her influence that instilled in me the desire to become a pediatric oncology nurse, so I could be an “Anisa” for other families battling their own cancer journeys.
Being On “The Other Side Of The Needle”
Today, I am 24 years old, recently married to a wonderful man, and working as a pediatric oncology nurse in St. Louis.
The conversations I have with the parents of patients leave me in awe. I see the commitment they have to their children and the overwhelming feeling of helplessness they feel as they watch their child struggle.
My frustrations with the reality of the limited access to funding for childhood cancer research is something I never had to worry about as a child, but now is a frequent thought.
I see the triumphs and the losses to this disease.
I joyfully cheer as a patient rings the “end of treatment” bell, and watch as the entire department embraces this victory. We sing, we eat cake, and we celebrate the life of this child as they return to “normalcy.”
The next day, I sit with a family who has just begun their cancer journey.
The cycle is vicious and challenging on the heart. But holding onto those triumphs both big and small keeps me focused, compassionate, and devoted.
Reminders Of My Past
There are moments that hit close to home for me—sometimes too close—reminding me of my past:
- A mother pulling clumps of fallen hair off of the back of her daughter
- A port being accessed for the first time
- A sibling being left at daycare a few hours extra while their brother or sister is in the clinic longer than expected
- The look on the parents’ faces as their child receives their first dose of chemotherapy
But these moments remind me of my childhood as well:
- Selecting a funky new hat to cover a bald head
- A sibling spending time with grandparents while their brother or sister is in the clinic
- The buzz around the clinic the week before the kids go off to cancer camp
- Painting a picture in the craft room
- Taking a moment to enjoy a beautiful spring day in the hospital garden
- The friendships that form among these families, undergoing a journey that few others understand
What Cancer Has Taught Me
Cancer has taught me valuable life lessons that I am grateful to have learned at an early age. They’ve guided the decisions I’ve made throughout my life and fueled my passion to care for pediatric oncology patients as a career.
I have found a sense of purpose and joy in this vocation. And I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing than walking step by step with these amazingly brave little patients and families as they face their own cancer journey.