Courtney Alvis of Bessemer remembers the first few months after her 16th birthday – driving to the mall, going to movies and enjoying her newfound independence. But that all changed on November 1, 2010, after what Courtney thought would be a routine visit to the pediatrician.
The pediatrician found that Courtney’s right lung had collapsed and he also feared she might have a much more serious condition – leukemia or perhaps lymphoma. She was sent to Children’s of Alabama. After a bone marrow biopsy and a spinal tap, Courtney was told she had acute T-cell leukemia.
Those words marked the beginning of a journey with the Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders that has lasted two years to date – a journey that will continue with maintenance visits until doctors can be sure Courtney has achieved a lasting remission. Courtney says the challenges of cancer treatment have been more difficult than she had first imagined. “I had all of these different side effects – from changes in my weight to losing my hair to neuropathy in my legs. I had to relearn how to walk. I was very tired, too. I wouldn’t even want to pick up the remote to change a television channel because that was too much work.”
Today, Courtney is an 18-year-old high school graduate with her eyes on a goal of becoming a pediatric cancer nurse herself. She will attend Jefferson State Community College on a full scholarship and then enter the nursing program at UAB. After that? “I want to be a hemonc nurse at Children’s,” she says. “That’s the only place I want to work. “Being a cancer patient definitely inspired me to be a nurse,” she adds. “I love the way they are with the patients and the way they get to interact. I love the way that I looked up to my nurses, and I want to be that person the kids look up to. I’ll tell them that even though ‘cancer’ is a scary word, you really can push forward through it – just don’t give up on yourself.”
September 2019 will mark two years since Courtney Alvis was hired as a pediatric hematology/oncology nurse at Children’s of Alabama, where in 2010 she was diagnosed with acute T-cell leukemia at age 16.
Courtney is now in remission, but she has endured the challenges that many of her patients experience today – from chemotherapy to weight fluctuation to lethargy to hair loss to neuropathy. And she knows the vital role nurses play in patients’ lives each day.
“They became my family and obviously led me to want to do the same for others,” Courtney said. “I was 16 and unable to go school, so my nurses became my friends, the people I hung out with.”
Courtney’s personal experience informs her work every day. She encourages her patients to “stay strong,” but she’s also aware that patients can tire of well-intended words of motivation at times. When that happens, she challenges patients to find happiness in the small things.
“Treatment can be so monotonous sometimes,” she said. “I remember trying to find ‘little happys’ throughout the day. You’re being put to sleep, but it’s good sleep. You’re stuck in the hospital, but there are all these great people caring for you and happy to see you. Small things can make a difference.”
Finding the “little happys” in her hospitalization no doubt influenced Courtney to become a Children’s nurse.
“Children’s is the only place I want to work,” she said. “I love the way we treat our patients and how we interact with them. I love the way that I look up to my nurses, and I want to be that person the kids look up to.”