Woman beats cancer, becomes oncology nurse

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (WOOD) — A West Michigan oncology nurse was inspired by her own battle with childhood cancer to help kids fighting similar diseases.

At age 12, Candie Ritsema was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system, which is part of the immune system.

“It just didn’t all make sense to me and I think at that age I’m kind of glad I didn’t know what to expect,” Ritsema said. “When I look back, if I would’ve known how bad things were I think I would’ve mentally broke down.”

She underwent six months of intense chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant a year after she was diagnosed.

Now, as a nurse at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids — where she was once a patient — she has an intimate understanding of what her oncology patients are going through.

One of those patients is 5-year-old Carter Piglowski. Tuesday marked one year since he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He still has a long road ahead of him, including continued chemotherapy and spinal taps every three months.

“He’s very tough and he’s very stubborn and I think that might have a lot to do with it,” Amanda Piglowski, Carter’s mother, said. “Immediately after he got diagnosed and we started talking to him about it, we told him that he’s going to beat this he knows he will.”

Ritsema says advanced treatments make the battle easier for patients like Carter.

“When I was treated 20-some years ago, I had to go to a different hospital to have a bone marrow transplant, where now we do all that right here,” she said.

The support Carter gets from his parents and nurses like Ritsema also gives him strength.

“The people that made my experience better out of something that wasn’t all that great were the people right at the bedside. And I knew I wanted to be there to give back the care to other kids like I was given,” Ritsema said.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

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