Kid at Heart: Patti Scott, BSN, RN

By Emily Marchesani
Posted on: August 1, 2011

Patti Scott, BSN, RN, vividly remembers what it felt like to be diagnosed with malignant schwannoma at the age of 15. She had just started her freshman year in high school and thought her arm was sore from gym class. Unfortunately, she found a cancerous lump under her right arm. In 1974, her treatment plan included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Today, Scott draws on her personal experiences as a childhood cancer survivor every day in her role as a pediatric hematology oncology nurse at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, Boston. Thirty-six children are diagnosed daily with cancer, and more than 40,000 children undergo treatment for cancer each year.

"My mom was a pediatric nurse so I knew the medical field would be my career path, but my experience cinched nursing for me," said Scott, adding if she could be as good a nurse as those who cared for her she would be successful.

"Pediatric oncology nursing is a calling. Actually, pediatrics in general is a calling for me. I enjoy how quickly children recover, and I want to have fun," said Scott as to why she entered this area of nursing. "I'm a big kid at heart, even at the age of 51. The kids keep me young."

Recalling the Past

Scott started her education at Middlesex Community College, Edison, NJ, where she graduated with an associate's degree in nursing. Her first job was on an adult oncology unit at JFK Medical Center, also in Edison.

After working in the adult oncology unit, she switched to a general pediatric/adolescent unit before pursuing work in the Boston area. In 1984, she was hired as a staff nurse at Mass General Hospital inpatient adolescent unit. She went on to earn her BSN from UMass, Boston, and for the past 21/2 years she has worked in the hospital's outpatient pediatric hematology oncology clinic. She made the change to outpatient care because of the physical demand inpatient care requires. Overuse of her arm makes symptoms worse.

Comforting Kids

In the outpatient clinic, Scott treats patients as young as a few months old to 22 years old. She provides primary care to oncology patients and maintains their care throughout their treatment cycle. The clinic is also an infusion center and treats patients who require care other than chemotherapy.

"I can empathize and sympathize on what they are going through based on my own experience," she said. "I feel that the kids of all ages are so resilient.

"I got very sick from the chemotherapy I received, but we have come a long way with helping to minimize the side effects of nausea and vomiting from the medications we give. We do a better job managing the side effects the kids have to experience. Over the years I have had to figure out how to protect myself [from the pain of seeing sick children]. It is something you have to want to do."

Scott believes every age is a challenge - no matter if a patient is 6 or 15 - and nurses need to put themselves on the child's individual growth and development level. To Scott, young adults 18-21 years old present the toughest challenge.

"They are considered pediatric patients, but they fall in between categories. I treat them as they want to be treated," she said.

Living with Side Effects

Twenty-six years after her surgery Scott developed secondary lymphedema. The lymph nodes were taken out from her underarm so she experienced some long-term side effects. Scott wears a compression garment sleeve and gloves. She also needs to exercise regularly and maintain the integrity of her skin to prevent infections.

Being a childhood cancer survivor is not the first thing Scott shares with patients, families and co-workers.

"If people ask, I tell them," she said. "I have had an incredible life experience, and certain patients and families have impacted me." In fact, one patient's family introduced Scott to her husband.

Boston CureSearch Walk

On June 25, 36 teams and more than 500 walkers turned up to support pediatric cancer research at the 2011 Boston CureSearch Walk. The event, sponsored by CureSearch for Children's Cancer, raised $110,543. The national non-profit foundation holds CureSearch Walks annually in cities throughout the country.

"I like what I'm doing and I'll be in pediatric oncology for the duration of my career, at least that's the plan. I will always be tied into some type of fundraiser that raises money and awareness for pediatric cancer too."

Christine Bork
Email Christine
(800) 458-6223

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