Kathleen Yancey, RN, has been a nurse for almost 20 years with half of her career in Chippenham Hospital’s ER. She is a great nurse with a compassionate heart and we are fortunate to have her on our team. In addition to decades of service to patients and co-workers, Kathleen has also been an extraordinary advocate for pediatric cancer. This passion stems from the heartbreaking reality of losing her teenage son, Justin, to Acute Myleoid Luekemia (AML) after a difficult and courageous four month battle.
In 2010, Kathleen was on her way to a family vacation with Justin and his older brother. Justin began spiking a high fever during the trip which led Kathleen to take him to an ER in Georgia. The doctors’ concluded that it was virus and he would be ok so they released him. Time always matters in these situations. Unfortunately, his fever was not brought under control and he was later admitted to another facility where he was properly diagnosed with Leukemia within 5 days. Research shows that the survival rate for patients with AML is about 40%. It is a rare leukemia and generally a secondary cancer, meaning most people have already had another kind of cancer and are generally adults. At the time, VCU’s Massey Cancer Center said they had only treated a few other cases.
Kathleen shared that Justin was known for being a fun kid with a loving and giving disposition. He would walk in a room and relate as well to the infant as the elderly. He was everyone’s friend. During his short life, he was clearly a difference maker.
As part of Kathleen’s quest for pediatric awareness, she orchestrated a Whipping Childhood Cancer Challenge at Chippenham & Johnston-Willis Hospitals. For the challenge, you take a video of yourself talking about the pediatric cause, challenging 7 of your friends to give $7 to a pediatric cancer charity, and taking a pie to the face. The Chippenham Challenge was recently spotlighted on the local news (http://wtvr.com/2014/09/21/whipping-childhood-cancer-challenge/)
I asked Kathleen what her inspiration was for this particular event and she said, “You hear a lot about other cancers, but not enough about pediatric cancers. We don’t have the same voice so it becomes the parent’s role to campaign for their kids. You see pink ribbons on everything. You don’t see the other color ribbons. Orange is leukemia and gold is pediatric cancers. I wasn’t seeing enough awareness campaigns here in Richmond, VA. The statistics are disheartening – 46 children are diagnosed every day and 7 children die of childhood cancers every day.”Chippenham & Johnston-Willis Hospitals’ fund raising supported a not-for-profit called Dragon Master www.dragonmaterfoundation.org which is focused on setting up a database to collect genomic data (the DNA sequencing of cancer) and correlating it to clinical data from patients. Their hope is that by doing this, researchers can focus on a cure. The organization was started by Amanda and Richard Haddock in Kansas in memory of their son, David Pierson, who passed away from pediatric brain cancer. He was told he would live 8 months; he ended up living 20 months. Kathleen commented that the extra time was an amazing gift for his parents.
It was difficult for Kathleen to share her story with others but she is so passionate about the cause and feels fortunate to have had 16 years with Justin.
She told me, “I have always been supported emotionally by the Chippenham Hospital team. It is hard to come here every day, in the place where my son passed away. The ER employees came together as a loving family. They were there for us from diagnosis through treatment. Even after he passed, they were so supportive and understanding. Kelly Grindstaff, my ER director, has also been amazing. The team at Johnston-Willis was helping us to organize a bone marrow transplant which unfortunately was not able to happen because of his rapid decline. Pediatric cancer awareness needs to come to the forefront. I hope that no other parent has to experience it. My dream is to find the cure. Progress is being made every day.”
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