MSK Nurse and Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivor Shares Her Story

By Nikki Gioia,

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Nurse sits at computer
Summary

This story originally appeared in Bridges, MSK’s newsletter for cancer survivors. Bridges offers a forum in which patients and their families can share stories of inspiration and hope, and of the challenges that can accompany a cancer journey. Learn more about how to receive Bridges and how to submit your story here.

Nikki Gioia is now 26 years old and a survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma. She was diagnosed in 2001 at age ten, relapsed twice, and underwent a transplant using her own bone marrow cells. She knew right out of high school that she wanted to be a nurse. But not just any nurse — a nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Do you disclose to your patients that you’re a cancer survivor? How do you have this conversation?

If and when appropriate, I sometimes tell them that I am a cancer survivor. However, this is their journey. I never want to make it about me. If the patient needs some words of encouragement and needs hope, I tell them. I believe my story illustrates that people do make it out of this hardship and thrive. It is a difficult conversation to start because I never want to overstep with my patients. I usually listen for a while, then tell them that I understand how they are feeling and what they are going through because I have been in their shoes. Even though my treatment course was not typical, I made it through — I make sure to stress that.

Back to top

Are you able to connect better with your patients because you’re a survivor?

I don’t know if it’s better — it’s just different. I was and forever will be a patient here, since I continue to have long-term follow-up as an adult. I can connect with my patients on their level. I have been on the patient’s side of the bed and have had some of the same pains and distress. A majority of the time, it’s the uncertainty that I connect with most. There is always a fear that your world will be halted by cancer. As my parents have always told me, and I now tell my patients, “It is what it is and will we get through it together.”

Back to top

Do you think patients are able to connect better with you because you have gone through a similar experience?

I think that patients are able to connect with me because we have all been through it. We understand the pain, the ordeal and stress that another clinician may not be able to appreciate. Something as silly as a shared taste of a certain medication will make a connection. Also, I try my best to never forget the caregivers. I always remember that my parents and brother went through it with me. Their experience and vantage point is different, but they were right by my side for every medication and blood draw. I have immense respect and gratitude for caregivers.

Back to top

Has your experience as a survivor helped you as a clinician or made it more challenging?

Being a cancer survivor has helped me as a clinician. Sometimes patients find it hard to express their frustration or pain. I can help put that frustration into words, help them cope, and help medical staff understand what they want or need. Sometimes patients just want a clinician to sit with them or to let them know they are coming back. I have realized that saying “I will be back” is often the best thing I can say to a patient. It is something so little, but it puts them at ease, knowing they are not alone. After my treatment, all I wanted to do was get away from MSK, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else. I believe things happen for a reason, and if I didn’t go through cancer treatment and the adversity that followed, I would never be doing what I am doing today — paying forward the care that was given to me by my amazing nurses, medical team, and staff.

Back to top

Comments

Nikki was my nurse at some point. After the usual chit chat I found out she was also a Hodgkin’s survivor. This immediately made me feel understood. I was happy she had shared this personal information.

God Bless You!! MSK is the best with the best nurses! My daughter had a BMT there 5 years ago for Aplastic Anemia and just finished up her freshman year in the nursing program at Fairfield university. She too wants to be a nurse at MSK! It says so much that you became a nurse based on your experience there! We are so grateful for all the nurses there, but especially grateful for the ones on the 9th floor!!

Dear Lauren, we're so glad to hear your daughter is doing well. Best wishes to both of you.

Add new comment

We welcome your questions and comments. While we share many of them with our world-class doctors and researchers, we regret that in order to protect your privacy, we are not able to make personal medical recommendations on this forum, nor do we publish comments that contain your personal information. If you would like to consult with an MSK doctor, we encourage you to make an appointment at 800-525-2225 or request an appointment online.

Your email address is kept private and will not be shown publicly.