Michelle's earliest memories are of her time spent in treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. It's where she encountered kindness, compassion and charity — all traits that help her in her job today as a hospice social worker.
I remember being in a crib, in a hospital room. I was about 3 at the time. I’d probably just had radiation therapy for the tumor I’d been diagnosed with the year before.
I don’t have a ton of memories from those days. But I remember one of my nurses, Ralph, would come and check on me. And I remember there was a window in the room, and my parents on the other side. They’d put their hands to the glass and so would I. We’d touch — or close enough.
What are some of your earliest memories?
Mine are of being a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. But they’re happy memories because of what they made possible — a full and fulfilling life, a life in which St. Jude has been with me nearly every step.
Think about it.
St. Jude led me to motherhood. Treatment for my rhabdomyosarcoma caused infertility, but my husband Tim and I adopted our two girls, Evelyn and Ashley. They’re just the greatest blessings in our lives. I would have gone through it all a million times, just to have them.
And St. Jude led me to my career. I’m a hospice social worker. I go into homes when someone is close to passing away. I’ve been doing that for 10 years, and I love it. If you don’t love it, it won’t work for you, really.
It takes being kind and gentle and compassionate — all the things I felt at St. Jude, during my years of treatment, and later when I’d return for checkups.
I remember when I was 11 or 12, meeting with a social worker on a return visit to St. Jude. She was so loving. I don’t remember her name, but it was definitely something that made a huge impact on me, realizing there was a career where you get to talk to people and try to help them.
I’ve even worked with a few St. Jude patients. They were coming back home on hospice care, and I was their social worker. It was really hard to be with those families at first. But once I got to know them, and to tell them I was also a patient at St. Jude, they trusted me more with their child. They knew their child was going to die, but at least I was able to love on them and serve them. And I had been through it, too.
St. Jude is with me still today. I participate in St. Jude LIFE, a research study that brings childhood cancer survivors back to St. Jude for regular screenings throughout their adult lives. The results help researchers understand the long-term effects of treatment, and improve treatments to minimize those effects.
When I return to St. Jude for the study, I’m often mistaken for the parent of a patient. I’ll be sitting in a waiting room before my next test and a parent will ask something like, “How old is your child who’s here?”
I’ll tell them, actually, I’m here for my follow-up from 30-plus years ago. It’s a nice moment. I get to share my story — not just the story of a little girl with a tumor, but of a teenager being inspired to find her life’s work, and an adult taking part in research that could help future patients.
I think it was my fourth time to go back for the LIFE study this past February. It really turned into four days of loving on those parents.
They weren’t just meeting a cancer survivor. They were meeting a mother. A social worker. A living, loving example of what’s possible through the work of St. Jude.