Survivor’s Childhood Cancer Experience Inspires her Career in Pediatric Oncology Nursing

Kafia Ibrahim is a registered nurse whose personal experience as a two-time childhood cancer survivor inspired her career path. She works in the haematology/oncology unit at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto and attributes some of her success to touchpoints she had with a POGO Interlink Nurse while in treatment and a POGO Counsellor after treatment.

Kafia was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer, when she was eight years old. Her treatment involved chemotherapy and radiation. At 15, Kafia relapsed and faced a second diagnosis of another soft tissue cancer. This time, surgery and chemo were part of her treatment protocol.

“I was too young to remember the details,” Kafia says “but I know that from the time I was diagnosed, my family had very positive experiences with Tina, my POGO Interlink Nurse. I attended Campfire Circle (formerly Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium) because of her and made lifelong friends, and she came to our home and connected us to many community and financial supports.”

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After her treatment ended, Kafia faced many challenges pursuing her academic and career goals.

“Those challenges were a result of the side effects of treatment,” she explains. “With nothing to control my pain and the resulting negative impact this had on my mental health, it took me longer than usual to finish high school. In Grade 10, I went from online school, to alternative school and back online. I utilized many of the services of the POGO School and Work Transitions Program during this time. When I was finally able to finish high school, my POGO Counsellor, Lucie, helped me with my university applications. She also notified me of scholarships that I would be eligible to apply for, and I received one from Childhood Cancer Canada. My POGO Counsellor also helped me get extra time for tests at school, something I didn’t even know was possible. She helped me know my rights and build my confidence to ask for what I needed. I don’t know if I would have done as well as I did if it were not for my POGO Counsellor.”

Wonderful nurses made an impact

While Kafia’s experiences through her cancer journey were not all great, the positive ones led to her career decision.

“I have had my fair share of experience with healthcare providers, especially nurses,” says Kafia. “I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. The amount of influence that nurses can have on a patient’s experience with their disease is more than one would expect. I still remember the wonderful nurses that helped get me through some of my hardest days. Whether it was singing my favourite song with me, celebrating my 16th birthday when I was in-patient or providing me with a shoulder to cry on when things got too much. I want to be able to provide this personal connection for another child and their family that may be going through a similar situation.”

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Gaining invaluable on-the-job experience

From 2019 to 2020, while in her nursing program, Kafia had the opportunity to work as a clinical extern at SickKids. In this mentored nursing assistant role in the haematology/oncology unit, she gained invaluable experience. She got to know families and found many ways to offer them respite, like staying at their child’s beside so they could take a coffee break. Remembering how bored she was as a patient, Kafia made it a point to entertain her patients. She learned the importance of building trusted relationships. Also, working in the hospital where she had received treatment was a way to see if any underlying or unresolved emotions would surface that might get in the way of her career success. Thankfully, none did!

“This job allows me to meet the bravest people. I feel like my experience with cancer allows me to see the bigger picture when providing care to patients and their families. My career plans include becoming a POGO Interlink Nurse in 3 to 5 years and finding ways to better support the transition from pediatric to adult care for childhood cancer patients. When I see the impact that my care can have on patients, it motivates me to work harder.”

Kafia Ibrahim is a registered nurse at The Hospital for Sick Children. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the Seneca/York Collaborative Program.  She is a two-time childhood cancer survivor. Her POGO Interlink Nurse and POGO Counsellor inspired and supported her career goals.

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