By Lori Ellingson
Incentives have always motivated me. I remember back to my days running on the cross country team. Before an annual Saturday Invitational, our coach would announce, “Top ten finishers in the Girls 2 mile will receive a trophy.” From that very moment, I would be determined to place in the top ten, and would run my race with that trophy in mind. I ran that particular race strategically and finished in 8th place, and proudly received my trophy!
During another cross country season, I badgered my parents incessantly about getting my ears pierced. Finally, my parents made me a deal. I had only 3 races left in the season. If I could run a certain time in my 2 mile race, my dad would say YES to pierced ears! Now, that was sure an incentive! I so wanted my ears pierced!! What a prize that would be! In my final race of the season, I DID it!!!! As I crossed the finish line, there were hundreds of spectators cheering on the runners, but I immediately spotted my parents, and could barely contain my excitement! Could I have achieved that 2 mile time without the incentive of getting my ears pierced? Who knows, but it definitely helped. (The following week I did get my ears pierced, and just a side note: my sister ALSO got to have her ears pierced, and she didn’t even have to do anything!)
Fast forward many years, and I become a pediatric oncology nurse at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital. I met Chloe and her family when she was 4 years old and diagnosed with leukemia. I instantly fell in love with Chloe, and was fascinated by her love and talent with horses. Here was this adorable, petite 4 year old that did barrel racing on these big horses and would WIN!
Describing leukemia treatment as intense, is a major understatement. Chloe’s initial treatment would consist of two and a half years of chemotherapy administered IV (intravenously), IM (intramuscular, or a “shot” or a “poke”), IT (intrathecally by doing a spinal tap) and PO (by mouth), as well as bone marrow and spinal tap procedures. In the beginning of treatment, the IM “shots” into her legs were particularly difficult for Chloe, as they were frequent and painful. Poor sweet Chloe was becoming traumatized by these pokes, and I struggled with how best to help her. I told Chloe, that it took a tremendous amount of courage to ride a BIG horse at TOP speed in barrel racing. I thought of the trophies and belt buckles she received in her horse races. On a unusually challenging treatment day, I asked Chloe, “If I got a trophy especially for you, do you think you could do this treatment?” Chloe answered with a smile and a “maybe!”
Now, I had never before done this for a patient. But there was just something about Chloe. Maybe, like me, a trophy would be an incentive?!? It certainly couldn’t hurt!
So, I had a trophy engraved for Chloe that read, “1st Place for Courage ~ Chloe.” I was probably as excited to give it to her, as she was to receive it. And honestly, from the moment I gave her that trophy she decided that she COULD do the leukemia treatment, and she DID with a fighting spirit, and while continuing to barrel race! Chloe and I went on to share many more memories over the years, both happy and sad. It is truly heartbreaking to see cancer recur when someone has already fought an incredible battle, and horribly unfair to develop a secondary malignancy (Chloe’s brain tumor) from therapy that initially saved her. (Radiation pre bone marrow transplant).
People often comment, “How can you care for children with cancer? That must be so hard!” And yes, there are moments that are indescribably hard. However, there are also moments that are truly amazing. A pediatric oncology nurse has the distinct privilege of helping a child/family through the cancer journey. I had the gift of knowing Chloe for over 12 years, and my heart smiles when I think about the trophy celebrating Chloe’s courage that helped motivate her through years of treatment. That Chloe wanted to share this with others after she died is such a testament to the beautiful young woman she became. It is an honor to be a part of Chloe’s Courage Fund and share her legacy of courage.
About the author: Lori Ellingson is a pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s Hospital & Clinics of Minnesota where she has worked there for over 27 years. Lori was Chloe’s primary oncology nurse throughout her treatment. When she’s not working, she enjoys reading, running and spending time with friends and family. She and her husband reside in Maple Grove, Minnesota and have two boys, ages 14 and 16, whose activities and sports keep everyone busy. “I was honored when asked to be involved with Chloe’s Courage Fund—it was absolute joy to know her!”