Woman, 26, who survived cancer as a child is now a nurse at the hospital that saved her life

December 6, 2018  19:26

A woman who survived cancer as a child is now a nurse at the hospital that helped save her life.

Jennifer Toth, of Vienna, Virginia, was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma - a cancer of the liver - when she was just two years old.

After a few years of treatment at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in Pennsylvania, Toth, now 26, was declared cancer-free. 

Now, more than 20 years later, Toth is working as a pediatric oncology nurse at that very same hospital and says her experience as a patient has shaped the way that she interacts with the children she treats.

There were no signs that anything was wrong with Toth until early 1995 when her mother felt a lump on her abdomen when she was giving her daughter a bath.

Her parents took Toth to their pediatrician, who referred them to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

It was there that scans showed she had a tumor the size of a softball on her liver and she was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma.

Hepatoblastoma is a tumor that begins in the liver and is usually found in children up to three years old.

Despite being the most common malignant liver tumor among young children, it is a rare form of cancer, affecting fewer than one in a million children, according to St Jude Children's Research Hospital.

The exact cause is unknown but children are at a higher risk if they were born prematurely; have hemihypertrophy, which is when one side of the body grows faster than the other; or have Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, known as an overgrowth syndrome.

Symptoms depend on the size of the tumor and can include a swollen abdomen, abdominal pain, jaundice skin, fever, nausea and vomiting.

Hepatoblastoma is treated usually via chemotherapy first to shrink the tumor and stop it from potentially spreading and then surgery to remove the tumor. 

If the entire liver is affected, then patients may need a liver transplant.

St Jude Children's Research Hospital says that the survival rate is 80 percent if the tumor does not metastasize, or spread, and can be removed following chemotherapy.

However, if the tumor does spread or encompasses the entire liver, survival rates can range between 20 percent and 70 percent.

Toth's tumor was too large to surgically remove so she went through six months of chemotherapy first.

Among the team that treated her during her time at CHOP, it was nurse practitioner Patricia Brophy, who has since passed away, whom Toth remembers the most. 

'Thinking about the nurses who I had known made the decision to become a nurse, and hopefully someday a nurse practitioner, an easy one,' she told Fox News

When she was applying for colleges in 2011, Toth learned of the National Cancer Society's Beyond the Cure Ambassador Scholarship, which awards college scholarships to cancer survivors.

Toth was one of 58 recipients, which paid for all four years at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing.

She is now back at UPenn's School of Nursing and completing rotations in the inpatient oncology unit at CHOP. 

'I always thought that it would be amazing to come full circle and work at the same hospital where I had been a patient,' Toth said. 

She told Fox News that she doesn't hide the fact that she is a cancer survivor, but she only shares her story under specific circumstances.

One example she gave is when a patient noticed her hearing aids and she explained that hearing loss was a side effect of the chemotherapy she received.  

'Even when I don't explicitly share my own diagnosis with my patients, I hope that my experience as a patient and a survivor shapes my nursing practice in a way that conveys deep empathy and understanding,' she said.

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