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Nurse and Cancer Survivor Gives Hope to Pediatric Patients

Family Matters - Fall 2010

By Lana C. Maciel

For children and teens diagnosed with cancer, having a doctor or nurse who can relate to what they’re going through can have a profoundly positive effect on how they cope with the disease.

No one knows this better than Anna Smith, a nurse at 
MD Anderson’s Robin Bush Child and Adolescent Clinic.

In March 1993, at age 13, Smith was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. She faced all the fears and questions that most cancer patients experience: a year of chemotherapy, surgery and losing her hair. It was an overwhelming experience for her, especially at such a young age, she says.

“It was really scary for me because as a teen, you hear about cancer, and all you know is that it’s not good,” Smith says. “You don’t know what it all really entails, and you don’t know what you can do or what will happen.”

But it was the nurses at the hospital in Memphis, Tenn., where she was treated who helped her through it all. Whether it was a daily exchange of casual conversation or a friendly game of cards in her hospital room, Smith’s nurses helped her cope with the emotional distress of cancer and kept her focus off of the disease.

She says that kind of care and compassion had an impact on her, and she now has those nurses to thank for ultimately inspiring her own career path.

“They played a big part in influencing me to be a pediatric nurse,” she says. “They got my mind off of what was going on, and they really made an effort to connect with me on a personal level. I try to be the same way with my patients as those nurses were with me, just being there to help the kids get through this difficult experience.”

In her five years as a nurse at MD Anderson, Smith says she has seen a lot of herself in some of the young patients who come to the clinic for cancer treatments. Through the Beads of Courage program, which helps children document their cancer experience with a colorful string of beads, she is able to connect with them and learn more about their journey.

They share similar stories and experiences, and they face the same kinds of adjustments and life changes that Smith remembers going through as a patient. Being able to relate to patients on that level provides comfort to them, she says, because it gives them hope for life after cancer.

“I like to share my story with patients and their families because I’ve been there and I know what it was like,” she says. “I remember how important it was for me as a patient to meet other cancer survivors. When I was going through it all, I had so many questions about what was going to happen, and if everything would ever get back to the way it was before.

“That’s why it’s so important for me to share my story and my pictures with others because it shows young patients that as difficult as it may get, it does get better, and life can return to the way it used to be.”

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center