Sam was my best friend. I was really lucky to be able to call her that because she was the best friend anyone could ask for. She was kind, funny, selfless, smart, and beautiful. She inspired me on a daily basis, even before she got sick.
Sam and I loved music. Somehow it was always playing in the background, like a soundtrack to our friendship. From having dance parties in our room, calling each other every time our favorite Kelly Clarkson song came on so we could listen together, to seeing Hannah Montana in concert with our dads, we always bonded over music. As I kid, especially before Sam got sick, I never realized the impact music could have on someone. It never occurred to me that music could be a therapy. However, now I see the impact of music therapy on a daily basis and can see why Sam loved it so much in the hospital.
Now, I did not choose a career in music therapy. Honestly, I didn’t really know anything about music therapy before Sam’s Fans was created, but I did choose a career that keeps Sam close to my heart. I choose a job that is impacted by music therapy and Sam’s Fans.
How I Discovered Nursing:
When I was a freshman in high school I went to my first career fair. Before that I really had not put much thought into what I actually wanted to do one day. I look back on the time when Sam and I were little and would play “house.” We would spend hours in our rooms creating different scenarios and acting out what our life and house would be like when we were older. Flash forward to high school and that game becomes a reality. One where I no longer get to play pretend and have Sam be my neighbor and raise kids together. As much as I hate to admit it, sadly I’ll never get that.
Through that first career fair and learning about different jobs in the medical field, somehow, I discovered the career of nursing. I knew I always wanted to work with people and loved how inspiring and rewarding a job in nursing could be. Nursing is special because you have the opportunity to help people who necessarily cannot help themselves. You bridge the gap between the scary medical terms and procedures and translate them into something that a child and their parents can understand. You make them feel safe within the walls of the hospital which can be filled with so much unknown.
I remember visiting Sam in the hospital and seeing her interact with the nurses or watching videos from her transplant and seeing her treat the nurses like family and joking with them about who was her favorite. The nurses impacted the McCarthy family in so many ways and I wanted to be someone like that for future patients.
My Nursing Journey:
Ever since I realized I wanted to pursue a career in nursing I have wanted to be a pediatric oncology nurse. That was my goal. I went into nursing school determined that I would graduate and return home and work at Nationwide Children’s hospital on their oncology unit. I was drawn to that field because of Sam. I wanted to work with kids similar to Sam because she inspired me so much. I also think a part of me wanted to help kids in a way that I was never able to help Sam. I was 11 when Sam died and never truly understood the medical side of Sam’s life. I never focused on it because I chose to just be a kid with Sam. Now I see the medical side of the illness on a daily basis, that is my job. I start the IVs. I give the medications. I support the patients through diagnosis. I thought that this job would bring me closer to Sam and would maybe provide this last bit of closure that I must have been missing.
I went through four years of nursing school, enjoying clinicals and finding different areas of nursing that I liked, but still I was set on pediatric oncology. Before my senior year though I had the opportunity to complete an internship at Nationwide Children’s hospital on their cardiac unit. Cardiac nursing is not
something I would have ever chosen for myself. Honestly, it kind of scared me when I first started, but I ended up falling in love with it. I loved the patient population, the staff I worked with, and the overall nursing care related to hearts. I struggled with this at first because I still wanted oncology but had not had any clinical experience with it yet in school.
Luckily, I was able to spend my second to last semester on the pediatric oncology floor in Pittsburgh. This was the clinical where I was one-on-one with a preceptor. This was the last major clinical to prepare you to be a nurse and I got it in my dream area. I love oncology and can definitely see myself working there someday, however, I found that I missed cardiac. I was drawn more to cardiac nursing over oncology. This was strange for me to finally admit to people because I had always thought that I was going to be a pediatric oncology nurse.
Where I am now:
Two months ago, I officially started my job as a pediatric cardiac nurse at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I chose nursing because I love working with and helping people. I also chose nursing because of Sam and how she inspired me. She is a major reason why I am who I am today, and that is not just because she passed away. Although her legacy lives on, and always will, she gave me something so special when she was alive. I chose pediatric oncology for Sam. I thought this was the best way to still feel like I was with her. I think it just took me a long time to realize that it is okay to start a new game of house, one where she is not there personally. She might not be there living in the house with me, but instead she is looking in from the outside. Sam will be with me through everything; she is engraved into my heart. I can find her in every patient that I work with, not just oncology. I chose pediatric oncology for Sam, but I chose cardiac for me. I am going to honor Sam the best way I can, which is to be the best nurse I can be and I know that Sam is going to love and support me through it all.
The last time I visited Sam in the hospital she took care of me. That probably sounds strange, but she did because that is the kind of person she was, always thinking of others. She was lying in her hospital bed and I was sitting in a chair beside her. She insisted that I put my feet on her bed to relax and had the nurse bring me something to drink while we watched a movie. I often reflect back on this moment and it inspires me because I think kids, especially kids who are sick, are the strongest people. Sam took care of me and now it’s my turn to take care of other patients. I get to help carry on her legacy not only through Sam’s Fan but with nursing. And what makes it even better is that I have the privilege of working at a hospital that is impacted by Sam’s Fans. Every time I see the music therapist stop by our floor or the child life specialist brings art materials into a patient’s room, I smile and think of Sam. I love knowing that she is here with me and together we are impacting these patients.
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