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  • Jackie Wiermaa

Hold On Tight Because It Is Going To Be a Rough Ride!


Katie (name changed) was clinging to her mother and would not let go. She had both arms wrapped tightly around her mother's neck and was whimpering, with her face buried in her mother's chest. She insisted on being carried and would scream in fright when anyone tried to talk to her. Katie's mother was exhausted from holding, carrying, and rocking this terrified three-year-old for days on end because she weighed around forty pounds by this age. Katie was just diagnosed with leukemia, and only her mother's arms could comfort her. Even though there were no painful procedures for Katie to endure during the hospital stay (children are routinely sedated for anything painful during leukemia treatment), she was still terrified at all the new faces and unfamiliarity of the situation. I wondered if Katie thought that if her mom kept walking and rocking her back and forth, no one would get close enough to hurt her.


Fast forward two years, and Katie had her last chemotherapy treatment. She was so independent that she insisted on sitting in the big chair all by herself when her port was accessed with the needle used to infuse her final chemotherapy treatment. She jumped up onto the exam table without hesitation and insisted on also using the otoscope to look into my ears after I examined hers. Katie reported that she would be a doctor someday, so she needed to practice at every opportunity. Katie's only cries and whimpers were in protest of having to leave the clinic so soon because she was having great fun. She loved coming to the clinic now because of all the attention she received from the nurses, doctors, child life specialists, and others.


Needless to say, it was a privilege as a pediatric oncologist to watch previously sick and frightened children learn to thrive, even while being treated for cancer. People often ask me if being a pediatric oncologist and working with sick children every day was sad. I actually thought it was a very uplifting career because I witnessed humanity's best every day. Children are remarkably resilient despite so many challenges. This encouraged my soul. If a three-year-old could transform from being paralyzed in fear to an outgoing, confident, and vibrant kindergarten student before my eyes, then it was easy to imagine anything was possible in life. Transformation of character occurs mainly as we endure and overcome hardships. My career provided living examples of this every day in the journey with the precious children I cared for.

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