Student who survived childhood cancer reunited with inspiring nurse

Nursing student Clara Markiewicz says she wants to inspire others to take up the career, after a chance meeting with the nurse who helped save her life.
Kate Pye and Clara Markiewicz

A nursing student who survived cancer as a child was recently reunited with the nurse who helped save her life, and says she wants to inspire others to take up the career.

Nursing student Clara Markiewicz, right, with Kate Pye, the nurse who helped care for her when she was a child. Picture: Clara Markiewicz

Clara Markiewicz was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the white blood cells – acute myeloid leukaemia – when she was four years old, and spent six months in the Royal London Hospital.

Speaking to Nursing Standard about her hospitalisation 16 years ago, Ms Markiewicz said: ‘I was in awe of the nurses; they were the people I looked up to and wanted to be like. I only have good memories of being in hospital, which is purely down to the nurses.

‘I was scared of the doctors, the machines and the medicines, but I have warm and happy feelings of how the nurses made it a home for me.’

Chance meeting

The University of Southampton first-year children’s nursing student was recently reunited with Kate Pye, her favourite nurse from her hospital stay. During a placement at Southampton Children’s Hospital, Ms Markiewicz recognised Ms Pye during a chance meeting in the staff room.

‘Somehow we had both ended up there,’ said Ms Markiewicz. ‘ My parents later came down to meet her and it was quite emotional for them.’

She added: ‘Kate was there with me during my diagnosis, treatment and on my day of discharge – she was very close to my family. I didn’t live near the hospital so never reconnected with her and she didn’t know how I had got on, especially as the cancer was a very aggressive form with high rate of relapse.’

Ms Pye, who is now University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust divisional head of nursing, said she had been ‘amazed and pleased’ to see her young patient again.

‘It was just lovely to see her. It was great to see her living her life to her potential, I am very proud. I feel protective of her as she’s been through so much and will be keeping an eye out during her training.’

Ms Pye added that knowing the impact nursing care can have is valuable. ‘Due to that unit closing, it was difficult to find out what happens to the children and you never forget, so it was amazing to see her pop up in the staff room. It is always a team effort and staff work so hard to try and make very difficult times bearable.’

‘Amazing nurses’

Ms Markiewicz said she felt ‘more light should be shone’ on nursing as a career and what it offers. ‘I have seen so many amazing nurses, with so much passion, and there are so many reasons to go into nursing. I would love to inspire more people to go into it,’ she said.

‘I think it is not necessarily valued in the way it should be. People don’t understand what it takes to be a nurse, how many hours you work. If you didn’t have nurses who loved what they do, patients’ experiences would be quite different.

‘I am loving it and my dream is to work on a children’s cancer ward,’ she said.

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