Caitlyn Mortus beat childhood cancer at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital in Houston, Texas. Then 10 years later she returned, but this time, she’s treating the patients.
“My journey with cancer is 100 percent the reason I became a nurse,” Caitlyn said, according to the hospital. “All through nursing school, my goal was to return to MD Anderson so I could support kids with cancer, the same way my nurses supported me.”
On the second day of spring break of seventh grade, Caitlyn received a devastating diagnosis. In 2009, what had started out as a small lump on her gum slowly grew to fill her sinus cavity. After Caitlyn was referred to MD Anderson, a biopsy confirmed Burkitt’s lymphoma, an aggressive cancer of the lymphatic system that is fatal if left untreated.
Caitlyn called her referral “a blessing,” explaining to ABC 7, “I was taken out of school immediately.” She was admitted for five intense rounds of chemotherapy over six months, and it worked. She then went into remission.
Ten years later, the 24-year-old survivor is working as a pediatric oncology nurse at the very same hospital. Her reason is twofold: not only does Caitlyn know what it’s like to be a patient, but she knows how pivotal the roles of nurses can be while battling cancer.
Family and friends paid visits whenever they could, but it was her nurses, Caitlyn recalled, that “helped me through such a hard time in my life, and I wanted to do the same.”
Something else that helped Caitlyn get through the hard times when she was battling the deadly disease was her art class. She joined the hospital’s Children’s Art Project, a fundraising initiative that sold merchandise featuring artwork by pediatric cancer patients, describing the project as “[T]he one thing that got me out of bed—I did not want to miss art class.”
Caitlyn made a close friend on her cancer ward, and the pair made art together. The Children’s Art Project featured their collaborative efforts on their merchandise, and Caitlyn’s own “ladybug art” is still featured today over products.
Nurse practitioner Donna Bell was part of the team that treated Caitlyn 10 years ago. “Even while she was in treatment, she was thinking about how she could make things better for patients who were going to come after her,” Bell recalled to ABC 7.
Caitlyn recalled being gifted a personal computer to help ease the loneliness of inpatient isolation. Now, Caitlyn is paying it forward; as she started a nonprofit, Keep Kids Connected, in 2010 to give iPads to kids with cancer, helping alleviate their boredom and keep them in touch with their loved ones.
Joan O’Hanlon Curry, of MD Anderson’s pediatric clinical services, commended Caitlyn for fulfilling her dream. “I think she really provides a unique perspective for the patients and the families, having gone through it,” she said. “She’s not telling everybody her story, but it helps guide her in how she takes care of the patients and families.”
Upon being employed as a nurse by MD Anderson, Caitlyn paid a surprise visit to one of her favorite nurses from her inpatient days to express her gratitude for caring for her, according to MD Anderson.
“The relationships that MD Anderson nurses form with patients are one of the things that make this place so special,” she explained. “Every day, I come here to help children and young adults and give them hope, that’s my favorite thing.”
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