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Tending to anxious parents is a daily challenge of nursing in a pediatric hospital, but how do you cope when you’re the anxious parent and the patient is your own 8-year-old daughter? At American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH) in Wisconsin, Nurse of the Week Windy Smith, MSN, RN is in this strange position while her daughter Ellie is undergoing chemotherapy for Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare cancer that causes tissue lesions.
While Langerhans cell histiocytosis can damage organs or cause tumors to form, most patients can be expected to survive. When the illness is more extensive, though, treatment can be grueling, and Smith’s little girl has been undergoing a year-long course of steroids, antibiotics, and hospital visits for chemotherapy treatment. Fortunately for Ellie and her mom, however, the 8-year-old’s favorite nurse has been available to provide care. Smith, a managing nurse at AFCH, says that Ellie “has to get labs before her chemotherapy and she has wanted me. She has a port in her chest, and so she has wanted me to access her port.” Her daughter explains her preference simply: “[It’s] just cause I sort of trust you more.” Smith reflects, “It’s like a heart-breaking privilege I have.”
Being able to participate in your own child’s treatment is indeed a privilege, but the experience has nonetheless been extremely stressful. “It’s all-consuming,” says Smith. “And while I know Ellie’s treatment is essential, it breaks my heart every time I access her port.” Their mother-daughter bond has helped to sustain them when things are hard. Noting that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, Smith remarks, “We have had some challenges with some depression and anxiety. It took us a while to actually start talking about it, start talking about feeling sad and feeling kind of angry about some of these things, but it’s really normal, so I’m glad she felt comfortable to open up and talk to us about it.”
Happily, Smith’s dual role will be over quite soon, and Ellie is eagerly looking forward to the end of her chemotherapy treatments, which will be marked by a Make-a-Wish trip to Disneyland and Universal Studios.
A video interview with Windy Smith is available at WKOW.