How a childhood brain tumor ignited a passion for nursing and breast cancer patient education

Abbey Kaler’s earliest memories of MD Anderson aren’t exactly fond ones. It’s the place she returned to dozens of times for follow-up care after being diagnosed with a childhood brain tumor. “No matter how long it’d been since my last appointment, I was scared out of my mind because I was going from normal-kid life back to sick-kid life for 48 hours,” Abbey says. But there was a bright spot during the visits: “The nurses were always so nice and warm. They helped put me as much at ease as was possible during such a scary time.” It was Abbey’s experience with the nurses at MD Anderson’s Robin Bush Child and Adolescent Center that led her to a career in nursing, and back to MD Anderson, where she now works as a nurse practitioner and patient navigator in the Advanced Breast Cancer Clinic. Early brain tumor symptoms Abbey’s brain tumor symptoms began when she was nine. At first, her parents thought the headaches, vomiting and exhaustion were due to playing too hard outdoors in the Texas heat. Fortunately, she happened to be scheduled for a routine pediatrician appointment on the day her symptoms escalated. “I fainted, and when I came to, I had tunnel vision,” Abbey says. Her mom took her to the doctor, who recommended consulting a neurologist, but the first available appointment was weeks away. Sensing that her daughter’s condition was urgent, Abbey’s mother took her to the emergency room. There, a CT scan revealed a brain tumor in Abbey’s cerebellum, the lower, rear portion of the brain. Juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma: a rare brain tumor After two...