Nurse Debbie Toomey embraces the chance to help children fight cancer and makes a big difference in the lives of kids and their families.
At an age when other girls might have been thinking about summer camp, their first boyfriend or the perils of algebra, Debbie Toomey, B.S.N., P.N.P., already knew what she wanted to do in life: become a nurse.
She was just entering her teen years when her grandmother fell ill and moved in with her family in Irvine, Calif. Her great-aunt, a nurse, came along to help, and Toomey watched her in action. She felt in her heart that she'd found her career path. And soon, she knew even more.
"I was one of those people who stayed up late watching telethons raising money for kids with cancer," she remembered. Even before she began nursing school at San Diego State University, she was determined to become a pediatric oncology nurse, despite all the experts urging her to get broad experience first.
It paid off in deep dedication and the knowledge that what she does every day matters, both to children and their moms, dads and other family members.
"On tough days, knowing I can help a family get through something … that's what keeps me going," said Toomey, a pediatric oncology nurse at City of Hope since 1999. "Knowing I made it easier on them is a reward in itself."
She's been known to jump on beds with patients and play board games with them. Sometimes she even tries out video games, usually unsuccessfully. Mostly she provides highly expert care while trying to keep children's lives as normal as possible.
And most do go back to normal. She gets high school graduation announcements, wedding photos and other evidence of happy adulthoods; patients often stop by after check-ups. She often thinks back to the ones who didn't beat cancer, too. "The things these patients do are amazing," she said. "They're sick, but they're usually more worried about others than themselves. They work so hard to take care of their families."
The tight teamwork among her fellow nurses, social workers, Child Life specialists, physicians and other colleagues has made her more than 10 years at City of Hope special, she says.
"I feel fortunate to be here, doing this," she said. "It's a calling, and I love it."