By Anna Pitts

As long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to grow up and become a nurse.

My first patient allowed me to practice my skills on her when I was only 4 years old. That patient was my momma. You see, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was only 1 year old, and my skills were limited to combing her hair, mashing up bananas for her snack and making her smile.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there were very few treatment options for cancer patients. My momma had multiple surgeries and cobalt treatments, a crude form of radiation.

My sweet momma fought long and hard to beat that monster we call cancer. But on Nov. 2, 1963, she gave in. She left this old world, leaving my 62-year-old dad, my 9-year-old brother and 6-year-old me behind.

She had always been honest about her disease, and she had worked very hard to prepare us for her absence in our lives.

As I grew older, the idea of becoming a nurse never faded. But there was one thing I did know: I would never be an oncology nurse. The thought of cancer made me mad, angry, sick.

My dream came true. I became a registered nurse. I worked in private practices, in hospitals as a floor nurse and in the operating room.

One day, out of the clear blue, I received a phone call from the Hancock Regional Hospital Cancer Center in Greenfield. The voice on the other end of the line invited me to come and tour the facility. I accepted the invitation and hung up the phone, and I questioned why I would even consider the possibility of becoming a nurse who cared for cancer patients.

I hated the thought of dealing with the monster that took my momma from me.

But there was a little voice in my head that kept telling me to just go and see what oncology nursing is all about.

I went and was hired on the spot.

As I left the oncology clinic that day, I thought to myself, “What on earth have you done?” I knew absolutely nothing about being an oncology nurse.

I learned so much, so fast. I slowly fell in love with my job and precious patients. Cancer care is unlike any other specialty in the field of nursing.

I did leave my first job in oncology after 10 years. I went to work at the new Hancock Surgery Center. After five and a half years of working at the surgery center, I was forced to leave my job. I was in a horrific car accident on my way to work on Sept. 9, 2013. I was able to return to work in February 2014. I was notified by phone two days after I got my medical release that I no longer had a position at the center.

As I hung up the phone, I burst into tears. I realized I was unemployed and I had no idea what I was going to do.

In April 2014, I received a call from Hancock Cancer Care at Hancock Regional Hospital.

I was asked if I would be interested in returning to my nursing position in their cancer care department. It was at that moment I realized that I wasn’t in control and really never had been in control of my destiny. Everything does happen for a reason.

My oncology nursing training had begun long before I had even attended grade school. My own sweet momma had taught me oncology nursing 101. God had placed me right where he needed me to do his work. I accepted my life’s assignment with gratitude.

I am now in my 14th year of oncology nursing.

Caring for my patients is so much more than a job. It is one of my greatest passions in life. I have taken care of hundreds of cancer patients, and not one has deserved a cancer diagnosis.

Cancer care is so much more than administering chemotherapy or radiation.

Healing doesn’t always mean curing a disease. We share our deepest thoughts, concerns, tears, food, jokes and hearts with our patients and their families.

Yes, we do become attached to our patients and it’s OK. It’s part of oncology nursing.

I thank God every day for putting my patients and their families in my path. They help me keep things in perspective with my own life. Cancer patients are so incredibly special to my heart.

Anna Pitts of Greenfield, whose mother died of cancer when Pitts was young, now works as an oncology nurse at Hancock Regional Hospital’s Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center.