Woman’s experience with surviving leukemia as a teen inspires her to become a nurse

“They didn’t treat me like a pediatric patient. I really just wanted to be like them.”
July 30, 2018 11:20 am Last Updated: July 30, 2018 11:20 am

After fighting and surviving cancer years ago, one woman made it through the ordeal inspired to pay it forward and ready to conquer her dreams.

Kelley Bernard, from Boston, got some life-changing news when she was a teenager: she was diagnosed with leukemia. 

“I was diagnosed when I was 15,” Bernard told CBS Boston.

Screenshot via YouTube/CBS Boston

Her disease sidetracked an interest in marathon cycling, after a few injuries convinced her to stay off the bike: “I got both my shoulders replaced, both my elbows replaced,” Bernard said.

She also had to undergo long stays at Boston’s Children Hospital for treatment.

“I think we tallied it to 170 days over the course of two years that I was inpatient,” she said.

However, during her long stays she found solace, and an unlikely inspiration, in the hospital’s staff.

“I became really close with the nurses … because they treated me like a teenager,” Bernard said.  “They didn’t treat me like a pediatric patient. I really just wanted to be like them.”

Screenshot via YouTube/CBS Boston

It turned out those nurses left a big impact on her life, years after Bernard was no longer their patient.

Today, Bernard has been cancer-free for 10 years—but she’s still at Boston Children’s Hospital. She now works as a pediatric oncology nurse, paying it forward in the same place she received her own treatments.

Remembering her own experiences, Bernard has a friendly, funny rapport with her young patients, treating them the same way she wanted to be treated. Yet she’s also reminded how far she’s come over the years.

“I’m to the point now where it’s my job,” Bernard said. “And a lot of times I can relate to the kids, but at the same time I’ve grown so much, that I don’t really feel like I was there.”

Screenshot via YouTube/CBS Boston

But she’s also returned to another old dream of hers: cycling—and for a good cause.

Bernard recently conquered her goal of completing the Pan-Mass Challenge two-day bike-a-thon to raise money for cancer treatment. She rides with a group called Living Proof, made up of hundreds of cancer survivors.

“I have wanted to do the PMC since I was 18,” Bernard said.

“You see the faces of some of these kids who are benefiting from the money and you also think of the kids who haven’t been diagnosed yet. The whole weekend is just very emotional.”

Screenshot via YouTube/CBS Boston

Bernard will be riding again in this year’s Pan-Mass Challenge, where the cyclists hope to raise a record-breaking $52 million.

As a survivor she’s providing motivation to cancer patients, both in the hospital and on the track.