Lydia Pankratz was in Sweden on vacation with her family. But instead of running and playing, she was too exhausted to even walk. Her father had to carry her. Her parents suspected Lydia had anemia and gave her iron supplements. But when they returned home and took Lydia to the doctor, testing would reveal a much more serious cause for their daughter's fatigue: She had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Cancer. She was just 11 years old.
For more than two years, Lydia received chemotherapy treatments at Mayo Clinic. And those treatments came with difficult side effects, which meant Lydia often spent more time at the hospital than with her classmates. "I experienced a lot of issues due to the chemotherapy, including steroid-onset diabetes, kidney stones, a suppressed immune system, and pancreatitis," she tells Mayo Clinic Connect, an online community where people can share their experiences and find support from others. "I missed a lot of school and really missed hanging out with my friends."
Fortunately, she made some new friends along the way: the doctors and nurses who took care of her. "They all took their time with me and my parents, answering all of our questions," she tells Mayo Clinic Connect. And for Lydia, there were a lot of those questions. She "always wanted to know the 'hows' and 'whys'" of her treatment. Her care team was always there to provide answers. The team was also there to provide some fun and a sense of normalcy. For example, when Lydia's 12th birthday arrived, staff "made it extra special by decorating my room," she says. "They were all so wonderful to me."
Lydia never forgot her caregivers. And today, five years after completing treatment, she is crediting them with inspiring her career choice. The 19-year-old, who was declared cancer-free last month, plans to become a nurse. "I was so touched by the nurses at Mayo Clinic," Lydia tells KIMT-TV. "I just want to someday become a nurse."
She's on her way to doing just that. Lydia is a first-year nursing student at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, where she's a Northwestern Mutual Childhood Cancer Survivor Scholarship recipient. She's one of 35 students from across the country to receive one of the scholarships this year. Lydia's parents are alumni of the University of Northwestern and "she dreamed of attending the private college," according to the Rochester Post-Bulletin. "Receiving the financial support 'made going easier.'"
We think the scholarship committee made a good choice. Lydia hopes to work in pediatrics, where she'll put her experience as a cancer survivor to good use. After all, as she told KIMT, it's given her an understanding of what patients go through. And she wants to use that understanding "to care for them the way I was cared for." (We think that's an A+ idea.)
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