Subscribe to our e-digest, Nursing Notes

Back to Nursing Notes

From Childhood Cancer Patient to Oncology Nurse

Getting Real: Nursing Today
September 26, 2016
From Childhood Cancer Patient to Oncology Nurse

For many people, childhood experiences can influence future career decisions. This certainly rings true for LeighAnna Hutchinson, BSN, RN, an oncology nurse at the same hospital where she was once a patient, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center  in Houston, Tex. We sat down with LeighAnna to learn more about her unique calling toward oncology nursing and her first few years in the field. 

NN: Can you tell us about your own battle with cancer?

LeighAnna: The summer before second grade, I was busy playing soccer, being a Brownie Girl Scout and learning to play golf with my dad. Our life was perfect! But on June 26, 1998, my life changed forever when I was told the three words that no one wants to hear: “You have cancer.”  

At just seven-and-a-half years old, I was diagnosed with Granulocytic Sarcoma, a very rare brain tumor, and Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). After an initial surgery, my parents decided to take me to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for the rest of my treatment. My doctors decided to try a procedure they had never performed on a child before, and my parents took a chance. This June, I celebrated my 18th Cancerversary!

NN: How did this influence your career decision?

LeighAnna: My medical team was astounding, and I realized I wanted to be just like them. Of all my medical staff, I admired my nurses the most. After my diagnosis, treatment and recovery, I recognized that I needed to pursue pediatric oncology.

In 2013, I received my Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Baylor University. As an RN, I get to pay forward what was given to me.

NN: How has your experience helped you connect with your patients?

LeighAnna: Although I do not share my story with everyone, sometimes I feel called to share my story with a patients and their family. In that moment, I am no longer a nurse administering chemotherapy. I become one of them. They see past the black scrubs and see that I truly understand what they are going through.

NN: What are the most important things you’ve learned in your first years as a nurse?


     1.     Trust your instincts! If something doesn’t feel right, speak up.

     2.     Teamwork is everything! As a pediatric hematology/oncology nurse, you must develop a relationship with the entire multidisciplinary team. Each member brings something unique to create the best plan of care for the patient.

     3.     Just keep swimming. There will be days that leave you in tears, but there will also be days you’ll hear a child laughing after they came out of the ICU or a “thank you” from parents who just lost their child or a bell ring to celebrate the end of a patient’s treatment.

NN: What was the most useful advice you received when beginning your career?

LeighAnna: Don’t forget to take care of you. As a new nurse, I was so excited and passionate about my new career that I joined lots of committees and spent extra hours volunteering with the kids. I loved it! After a while, however, I noticed that I was giving everything I had to my new career and I didn’t have anything left to give to myself, my family and my friends. Once I learned when to say no, I was able to take time to take care of myself, which allows me to ultimately give more to my patients and their families.

NN: How do you plan to keep growing as a nurse?

LeighAnna: In the past three years, these kids and families have taught me so much, but I have always felt called to do more. This fall, I returned to Baylor University to obtain my Doctorate in Nursing Practice with the goal of becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner.

NN: Is there anything else you would like to share?

LeighAnna: Being a nurse is not about delivering life-saving medications or remembering policies and procedures. It’s about the human connection and the impact of human touch. As nurses, we are called to care for the whole patient: physically, mentally, emotionally and practically.

To learn more about oncology nursing, visit

^ Back to top