When my older sister Sonja was 13 years old, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in her right leg. It was 1987 and I was only six at the time and didn't realize the severity of her situation. To me, it was normal to have "barf buckets" in every room of the house, physical therapists stopping in regularly, and a bald sibling on crutches. It wasn't until I was older that I realized the seriousness of the circumstances and how truly lucky I was to have a sister who was still alive. Sonja was one of the first beneficiaries of a unique limb-sparing bone graft, a procedure developed in collaboration between Colorado State University’s Flint Animal Cancer Center and the Limb Preservation Foundation in Denver. Little did I know that this early, peripheral connection to the FACC would one day become a very strong one.
I think my love of animals stemmed from having a dog as a support system growing up. We had a brilliant blue heeler mix named Jenny who was a family member for all 17 years of her life. We literally grew up together and I was 18 when she passed away. Jenny was always around to keep me entertained and to distract me from the chaos going on in our house. Throughout my childhood I collected a variety of pets including hamsters, mice, a gerbil who wore hats, a bunny, and a "stray" hedgehog that our dog sniffed out in our backyard one night. I also had a lovable, goofball yellow lab Dudley who passed away just last year. Currently, my husband, Tom and I have a wonderful 3-legged shepherd mix named Willie (short for Professor Williker J. Nubbins III, esq.), who always keeps us entertained.
Early on, it was clear to family and friends that I wanted to work with animals when I grew up. Throughout high school I worked in a small animal private practice while considering a career as a veterinarian, but after working with veterinary technicians I knew that the nursing role was right for me. After earning my Associate Degree in Veterinary Technology at Front Range Community College, and passing the national certification exam in 2002 to become a Certified Veterinary Technician, I spent the next 12 years in private, small animal practices in Colorado until I saw an opening for an oncology nurse at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. I applied right away, but felt this was a dream job beyond my reach. The CSU Flint Animal Cancer Center is world renowned for its advanced cancer care and translational research. Having little experience in delivering cancer treatments (most small practices refer their patients), I was a bit apprehensive about working with oncology patients, especially recalling how chemotherapy affected my sister. I'm sure many pet owners feel the same way when they hear “chemotherapy” as a treatment option for their pet.
Happily, I joined the staff at the Flint Animal Cancer Center in 2010 and it has been my privilege to provide the best quality care to numerous patients and to offer support and reassurance to patient families. I have seen the positive effect treatments and the level of care we deliver can have on our pet patients and I am gratified to see how excited they are during return visits. Many know exactly where we keep the cookie jar, and others willingly jump on the treatment table on their own!
It feels good to be able to make a difference and to go through these treatments alongside owners, even during the sad times. It also feels good to know that much of what we learn from our furry patients will translate to human medicine and help fight all types of cancer.