Working at GOSH with the nurse who cared for me

21 Dec 2020, 9:51 a.m.

At four years old, GOSH nurse Clara was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). She spent six months as an inpatient at the Royal London Hospital, where she was cared for by nurse Kate. Fast forward to 2020 and Clara has recently qualified as a nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) where Kate also works as the Head of Blood, Cells and Cancer.

They share the remarkable story.

“Kate was the nurse in the room with my family when we were given my diagnosis of cancer and the prognosis,” begins Clara. “For me, and for my parents, that was the moment when we understood the incredible value of nurses.

“Kate stayed in the room to answer our questions, gave us time to process and explained anything the doctors said that didn’t make sense. From that day, and for the next 6 months, she became one of the nurses our family trusted the most.”

Supporting families through difficult times

During Clara’s time in hospital, nurse Kate became an important source of support for Clara and her family. Kate tells us what it means to be able to help families, like Clara’s, through difficult times.

“I always have said it’s about taking the time, when possible, to sit and talk to the families. Supporting them through some of the most difficult times in their lives is a privilege and as nurses we are in a unique position.”

“Usually, late on at night shift, families open up about what they are experiencing, and you can help them to navigate their way through this journey, supporting them with care and compassion, listening and kind words.”

A familiar face

In many cases, it’s rare for nurses to receive updates about the children they care for once they leave hospital. It wasn’t until many years later that Kate came across Clara again, as she tells us:

“I was watching the news where they were talking about cancer survivorship. They were following a student who was training at Southampton, where at the time, I was the Head of Nursing at the Children’s hospital. I recognised Clara as her name is quite memorable: I’ve always been quite good at remembering names and faces!”

“It was great to see her as an adult and forging her way as a survivor. Also, that she had chosen not only nursing; but children’s nursing as her profession.”

An emotional reunion

“I found Clara on the orthopaedic ward one very busy winter weekend shift.” Kate remembers.

“We looked at each other and said, is it you!”

“We had a lot of catching up to do,” Clara recalls. “She had left the hospital where I was being treated before I had gone into remission and so had no idea if I had survived cancer. It was emotional, particularly when my parents came to meet her again, after all those years, to thank her for everything she did.”

Returning to GOSH

Fast forward to today and, once again, Clara and Kate’s paths have crossed: this time at GOSH.

For junior nurse Clara, the move to GOSH was a chance to work in her chosen specialism, “I applied to GOSH as a newly qualified nurse and knew I wanted to work in Oncology. I am now a staff nurse on Butterfly Ward, and I am privileged enough to be working alongside an amazing team who care for children with cancer and immunological conditions from all over the world.”

“Kate wasn’t at GOSH when I started but I got a message from her, a few months ago, saying she would see me at GOSH – she was due to start a job as the Head of Blood Cells and Cancer!"

"We just seem to keep following each other around!”

Kate made the move to GOSH in September 2020, twenty-six years after she first worked at GOSH as a newly qualified.

“I started my cancer journey at GOSH in 1994 as a very new nurse. I worked at GOSH for 3 years and always had very fond memories of my time there. It was hard work, but we had some fun along the way, and I always hoped I might end up back here.”

A vocation to bring joy

For both Kate and Clara, the decision to enter the world of children’s nursing was one that always seemed obvious, as Kate tells us: “I can’t really remember a time of me not wanting to be a nurse; I was always really clear that being a children’s nurse was what I wanted to do. I think I was lucky to have such a clear plan around what I wanted to do with my life.”

Clara’s choice to go into nursing was inspired by the care she received as a child and the chance to replace memories of fear with ones of joy for her patients.

“For a lot of my childhood, I grew up around nurses. Being stuck inside hospital limits a child’s social life massively. During the hardest period of my life, my memories are largely filled with positive things the wonderful nurses did, and Kate was one of them,” Clara recalls.

“When I was feeling well enough, we would dance in the corridor to the radio, make art, throw a surprise birthday party for my mum, play tricks on the other staff, or I’d get to sit at the nurse’s station – the ultimate privilege- while they did notes.”

“There was nothing better than spinning around the ward and forgetting everything for a bit and Kate was best at that. That, or a game of high-speed go-kart racing down the corridor: I never laughed more than racing other patients up and down the ward when we were well enough to be like normal children.”

“I honestly believe if you have the chance to do that for a child, to replace the memories of fear and painful procedures, with joyful ones, then what greater job is there? So, I guess I always knew becoming a nurse was what I would do.”

Coming full circle

Now fully qualified, Clara reflects on her journey through recovery and navigating nursing: “It has been a long road to get here, and to be well enough to be a nurse myself, but Kate has played a massive part in encouraging and motivating me to keep going throughout my training and now as a newly qualified.”

“It feels amazing to have come full circle and so wonderful to know that Kate can see that. She has so much experience; putting children and their families at the heart of everything is what she has been doing ever since she was a staff nurse looking after me.”

And, from Kate’s words, it is clear that Clara will go on to do the same: “I’m really proud of the amazing young woman she has become. She has used her experience, and it has shaped her into the kind and caring individual she is today.”