Young cancer survivor chooses oncology nursing
When nursing student Lindsay Roache cares for teenagers with cancer at Children's Hospital Boston, she knows exactly how they feel. She's been there.
"I came back to face the past," says the 21-year-old, who is going full circle from patient to caregiver.
Roache was a sophomore in high school when she learned she had leukemia, and finished treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Jimmy Fund Clinic (JFC) and Children's when she was a senior. She still remembers her response to her diagnosis: "I don't have time to be sick!"
What was the worst part of her experience? Not the lumbar punctures [a small needle inserted into the spinal canal to obtain a sample of spinal fluid for testing] nor the radiation treatments. It was losing her hair. "It's really hard for a teenage girl, who is very concerned about her image, to be bald," she says. "And your hair does not come back the same after cranial radiation."
"Cancer didn't fit my plan," explains Roache. "I was an honor roll student and a dancer. I had long, thick hair and my body was starting to develop. It was a terrible time to face the assault of chemotherapy and radiation."
Despite the time spent in cancer treatment, Roache graduated from Rockland High School on time, near the top of her class and emerged with a perspective many wait a lifetime for. "Some people my age float around. But I know what's important: family, friends, giving back."
The impetus to give back shaped her decision to become a pediatric oncology nurse, but not right away. "If you had told me then that one day I'd go to nursing school and return to the same scene, I would have said, ĺ─˛Are you crazy?' On the other hand, I took note of the incredible care the nurses gave me, and when it came time to decide on a career, that was the direction I chose."
Cyndi MacKinlay, whose son Andrew was cared for in the JFC and Children's at the same time as Roache, recalls that whenever they saw Lindsay, she would be at the bedside of a new friend or high-fiving a younger patient. "It was obvious how much she adored children."
Roache is now in her third year at Northeastern University, where students can combine coursework with clinical experience. Some things about this particular rotation are hard, she admits. Just the sight of the wallpaper and smell of the soap bring back painful memories. "On my second day, I was asked to watch a lumbar puncture, and I couldn't do it," she says. "I wasn't ready. I remembered how painful that procedure was."
After a recent visit to Children's with her son, Cyndi recalls, "When Lindsay walked toward us in her blue scrubs, it was like a ray of sunshine coming our way. Images of her coming full circle flooded my mind. It warms my heart to think of her ability to offer hope to the children and families she cares for."
Reprinted from the March 8, 2005 edition of Inside the Institute.