I was raised in Greeley, Colorado by my paternal grandmother, who instilled in me not only a love of animals, but also a love of medicine. She had earned her Master’s degree in nursing and started a non-profit organization for in-home health care, the Rehabilitation and Visiting Nurse Association (RVNA), northern Colorado’s only non-profit, community-based home health care agency.
Our home was a very happy place to grow up. We had many different types of animals and I loved caring for them and taking them in for their yearly wellness visits. At 7 years old, I decided that I was going to be a veterinarian when I grew up.
After high school, I enrolled at the Bel-Rea Institute of Veterinary Technology in Denver, Colo., to kick start my career in veterinary medicine. After graduating in 2000, I spent several years working in general practice where I furthered my education, learned about different medical techniques and honed my nursing skills. I have always been determined to learn as much as possible, challenge myself, and build my career into something more. I had developed a deep respect for the quality of medicine and excellent research practiced at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, so I decided to see if there might be a place for me on staff. I was very lucky to be offered a position with the Flint Animal Cancer Center in April of 2013. I still have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure I’m not dreaming, because this is an extraordinary place to work and learn.
I feel a deep connection with our patients and clients because cancer has touched my life in so many ways. My beloved Aunt Deborah, who was born developmentally disabled, was stricken with many different cancers during my childhood, but I was too young to understand her illness. Her bedroom was right across from mine and we “grew up” together because, even though she was much older than me, her disability gave her the gift of staying a child forever. My favorite memories of her are waiting for Santa to come on Christmas Eve. Although she was sick a lot, she was always cheerful and loving.
We also had a goofy, loveable golden retriever named Honey. I remember the day we brought her home. She was too scared to walk on a leash, so we got her into a wagon to show her off to the entire neighborhood. Honey lost her battle with transitional cell carcinoma (bladder cancer) after I graduated from high school. Both my aunt and my dog made my childhood happy and full.
After I moved out on my own, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was caught early enough and, after treatment, she is a survivor. She has always been my idol, but seeing how bravely she battled this ugly disease, I can think of no one else in the world whom I look up to more. I can’t go more than a couple of days without calling to tell her how much I love and admire her, and that all of my accomplishments are thanks to her guidance. She always tells me how proud she is of me. I want to live my life in the same way she has lived hers and, if I can be half the woman she is when I am her age, I know that I will have succeeded in life.
In January of 2011, I lost my maternal grandmother to lung cancer just two months after being diagnosed. During those horrible two months when she was so extremely ill, I became an even bigger advocate for finding a cure. She was in Florida and I was in Colorado, feeling completely helpless. This woman did water aerobics every day, never ate an unhealthy meal and was in amazing physical shape. I couldn’t understand how this could happen to someone so healthy. But it did, and I miss her very much.
Life has blessed me with so many wonderful people and opportunities. I am very happy to be living in Fort Collins with my amazing rescue dog, Annie, and my rescue cat, Banjo. They are my children and make me smile many times a day. I always say that they have rescued me, too. When not working, I spend most of my time walking Annie, window shopping, making jewelry, hiking or hanging out with my family. As a Colorado native, I’m glad that I have found my dream job so that I never have to leave the only place I have ever called home.