Full Circle: The Journey from Patient to Caregiver

by Sara Dickison Taylor

You wouldn’t be able to tell just by meeting them, but high-school student Molly Callahan and Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center nurse Lindsay Roache, RN, have a few things in common: They’ve survived cancer, and they’re committed to helping others.

Roache’s journey has come full circle from patient to caregiver, while Callahan is just embarking on her goal to become an oncology nurse.

Callahan, 16, completed her cancer treatment four years ago. But she still recalls the day she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). “I remembered how leukemia was described in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, where someone died – that freaked me out,” she says.  “But they explained to me that I would get chemo, and that ALL was treatable.”

She was just starting middle school and in the midst of meeting new friends. “All I could think about was not doing sports again or having to stay back a year. I worried most about losing my hair. I was afraid I wouldn’t be a normal kid again.”

After her discharge from the hospital, Callahan returned when she started getting persistent fevers. It was her nurses who inspired her. “My nurses were the best thing in a horrible situation,” she says.

Even though Callahan’s cancer journey is now complete, its effect lives on.

“Cancer has made me a better person and become a part of who I am. I want to be a nurse in the Jimmy Fund Clinic or on 6 North [the inpatient cancer unit at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s].”

Lindsay Roache, RN, a Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s pediatric oncology nurse on 6 North, describes a similar passion for nursing that Callahan describes. Although Roache has been off treatment for ALL for 12 years, she says her diagnosis in October 1998 doesn’t seem that long ago.

“I was 15 – involved with dancing, boys, and homework,” Roache says. “Then my life changed overnight. Having cancer made me grow up. It was a blessing and a curse – but more of a blessing.”

Roache remembers deciding at age 17 that she wanted to attend nursing school. She, too, reminisces about the influence her nurses at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s had on her career path.

Pediatric oncology nurse Lindsay Roache, RN, chose nursing after her own experience as a patient.

“I don’t know who I would be today if I didn’t have cancer,” Roache says. “I have seen first-hand how it can make or break a family. For me, it made everything better.” Yet, Roache says even the smell of soap on 6 North can sometimes trigger memories of being a patient. “In the beginning of my training, I couldn’t be in a treatment room without breaking down during patient lumbar punctures,” she says. “I remembered the pain of my own treatment like it was yesterday.”

Yet, as with many things, the passing of time gave her a vital perspective to help other patients. Together, Roache and Callahan stand today as two survivors passionate about making a difference and giving back – living proof that cancer can make you stronger.

Sarah Dickison Taylor is a member of the Pediatric Patient and Family Advisory Council and mother of a cancer survivor.

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