After cancer, nurse finds her way at Illinois State
A brain tumor robbed Mennonite College of Nursing student Casey Patton of her late teenage years. Treatment almost derailed her nursing career.
By fall 2012, Casey had recovered from a brain tumor for the second time in six years. But chemotherapy and radiation treatment after a relapse in 2011 left her with excruciating headaches and fatigue so draining that the former high school volleyball player and triathlete had trouble walking stairs.
“It was just a debilitating exhaustion from the moment I woke to the moment I went to bed,” said Casey, 23, of Woodridge. She consequently almost dropped out of ISU’s nursing program. A scholarship that made attending the college possible was key to keeping her in school.
Casey was diagnosed with the tumor at 16, just days after completing the Chicago Triathlon and six months after experiencing vision problems that led to the diagnosis. The tumor was inoperable, so she underwent 13 months of chemotherapy. She completed high school at home and felt healthy enough to move on to college.
Casey had always wanted to sing on Broadway. She enrolled at Illinois Wesleyan University on a vocal scholarship in 2008, but left after one semester because her weakened immune system succumbed to pneumonia. Without a support system nearby, psychological wounds from her cancer bout surfaced.
She realized her tribulations had to be for something, which led her to pursue a nursing career. Casey enrolled at Illinois State, planning to enter the rigorous nursing program. Three semesters later her cancer returned.
In January 2011, she and her mother moved to Boston for radiation therapy. The treatment worked and more good news arrived that spring: Casey had been accepted into Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN).
Later that summer, she received the Joslin Scholarship. The award, established by Roger and Stephany “Stevie” Joslin of Bloomington, provided a year of full financial support.
“Truly, I hadn’t had such a good piece of news, such a motivation in years,” Casey said. “It gave me the resources to do something that I might not have otherwise been able to do.” The scholarship covered an entire academic year and was a necessity due to her medical bills and inability to work because of treatment side effects.
She excelled in the nursing program, earning a 4.0 GPA. In June 2012, she began interning where she has been a patient—the oncology floor at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She worked with the nurses and doctors who treated her.
But the fatigue and headaches had not gone away. She eventually confided her anxieties to MCN Dean Janet Krejci.
“I didn’t think I could do it. Emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually I was just gone. Everything about me, I was just exhausted,” Casey said. She found support in her family, Krejci, and the Joslins—whose scholarship supported her for a second year.
By last spring, doctors found medications that alleviated the worst of the headaches and fatigue. Casey resumed sports and began enjoying the college experience with fellow nursing students.
“You struggle together with each other,” said Casey, who is set to graduate in December. A bigger date beckons in March 2016. That’s when her cancer will be considered in remission. By then she hopes to be a full-time nurse at Lurie Children’s Hospital, helping children and teenagers cope with the same cancer she has fought to overcome with the help of her Redbird family.