Rally Kid Chandler fought cancer to become a nurse. Now she’ll fight COVID-19 on the front lines.

May 5, 2020 | Rally Blog, Rally Stories, Teens | 0 comments

In the wake of COVID-19, International Nurses Day feels more important than ever. Around the world, these healthcare providers are risking their lives to give patients the lifesaving treatments they need. We are forever grateful for their sacrifices and unwavering dedication during these dark times.

Over the years at Rally, we’ve witnessed time and time again the integral role that nurses play in the care and well-being of our Rally Kids. During a global pandemic, the importance of nurses is amplified—but the truth is, they always were (and will be) an invaluable part of our healthcare system.

Chandler with one of her nurses during treatment

Rally Kid Chandler understood this and felt it deeply during her long and brutal battle with cancer. She was so passionate about nursing, in fact, that she opted to pursue a career as a pediatric oncology nurse. Today, Chandler not only beat cancer but has graduated from nursing school and will begin working at Vanderbilt Hospital in the Pediatric PACU.

“After 8 months of inpatient chemotherapy, I quickly noticed how important nurses are when you are battling an illness,” Chandler said of her experience. “These pediatric nurses inspired me to become a nurse because of their giving nature and their willingness to make their patients comfortable. I have been working to become a nurse since the end of my cancer treatments in 2016. I am going to start my job at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital this July, where I will be working in the Pediatric PACU (post-anesthesia unit).”

Rally Kid Chandler’s Inspiring Journey from Cancer to Nursing

“Before cancer, I was a normal college kid,” said Rally Kid Chandler back in 2018, during her moving Rally On the Runway speech. “My junior year spring break is when that all changed.”

The battle that followed was an excruciating one. Chandler was officially diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that also happens to be the fastest-growing human tumor. This meant that her tumors doubled in size every 12-24 hours.

After the first round of chemo, Chandler’s tumors began shrinking—but the breaking down of the tumors caused her kidneys to shut down. She was seconds away from being placed on dialysis, and she had gained 40 pounds of fluid. As a result, her second cycle of chemo had to be delayed, causing the tumors to come back in full force. From there, things got much worse before they got better.

Chandler with her mom during treatment

Chandler’s immune system was weakened from the chemo, which resulted in fevers and a severe internal fungal infection in her lungs, liver, and spleen. The medicine they gave her for this infection caused her excruciating pain day after day. In addition, she also developed an intestinal infection caused by the overload of antibiotics.

Thankfully, a new treatment called monoclonal antibodies provided a light at the end of the tunnel. Basically, with this treatment, they took Chandler’s blood and put it in a rabbit, so that the rabbit could build up the antibodies she needed to kill her specific type of cancer. Then, they put the blood back in her. It might sound strange, but monoclonal antibodies are one of the many treatments that foundations like Rally are funding in order to kill cancer while having fewer short and long-term side effects.

Today, Chandler is still fighting those life-long side effects of her treatment, including infertility and PTSD. Considering the hardships she has been through, it would have been easy for Chandler to give up and walk away. But instead, she studied hard to be a pediatric oncology nurse in order to be an advocate and caretaker for children experiencing what she went through.

Becoming a Nurse During COVID-19

Chandler in her scrubs

As someone who already knows what it’s like to live in fear of getting sick, Chandler can relate to the worry and uncertainty during COVID-19.

“Think about this,” Chandler explained. “When you go through the grocery store during COVID-19, and you are wearing a mask and gloves and you are thinking about the germs on everything, it can be overwhelming. This is how a cancer patient feels every single day when they are going through treatments.”

“It is always nerve-racking to become a new nurse,” she continued, “but during COVID-19? It is terrifying. We all fear this virus, some more than others, but especially cancer patients and survivors.”

Nevertheless, Chandler is excited to start this next chapter and provide care for others—the way she was cared for during her long hospital stays.

“Nurses put patients and their families before themselves and their own families,” she said. “And I cannot wait to start my job as a nurse.”

On International Nurses Day, we thank Chandler and all the other nurses who risk their own health to put others first and save lives. Thank you for all that you do.

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