Cancer survivor Malia McCoy spends a day at the UAB School of Nursing

Fond remembrances of chemotherapy nurses makes 15-year-old Pell City High School student want to become one
malia2By Catie Etka

Through hardship arises strength, and 15-year-old Malia McCoy exhibited plenty of that when she was diagnosed with Anaplastic large-cell lymphoma—a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma disease—in April of 2015. Her resilience, positive attitude and familiarity with nurses from that ordeal allowed the Pell City High School student to look beyond an uncertain diagnoses to a future as a nurse herself one day.

“Malia realized what a huge difference she can make and that she could save someone’s life like the nurses did for her,” said Michelle McCoy, Malia’s mother and a nurse herself.

Chemotherapy was tough on the family. Malia participated in a clinical trial searching for a cure for the disease, which meant that she had to undergo intensive in-patient chemotherapy at Children’s Hospital. Now, with her chemotherapy concluded and the disease in remission, she is able to return to a normal life.

Often described as wise beyond her years, Malia’s desire to become a nurse was so evident that a UAB employee who knows the family reached out to both the McCoys and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Nursing to coordinate a day at nursing school for Malia.

Assistant Professor Summer Langston, DNP, CRNP, ACNP-BC, AACC and Recruiter Annalee Hudson Whitman, MPPM, BS, PHR were immediately on board and began crafting an itinerary for Malia’s day as a nursing student.
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When Malia arrived on campus on the morning of Nov. 18, she was given a pair of monogrammed UAB School of Nursing scrubs and a skills kit bag -- just like any student who enrolls in the school —and immediately felt like she belonged, she said. Then she shadowed fourth-semester Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) student Angelica Chapman, who is a non-childhood leukemia survivor.

Malia recounted that going through chemotherapy fascinated her and led her to think of becoming a nurse. She told how she remembered her wonderful nurses and decided she wanted to help others overcome illnesses through one-on-one patient care, just like Angelica.

“Coming from my own past with cancer, I know what it’s like to be in her shoes,” aid Angelica. “It’s different going from the patient’s perspective to the nurse’s perspective. That transition can be overwhelming when you realize how much goes into becoming a nurse. But I think her past will make her an even stronger nurse.”

Malia joined Angelica and several other BSN students in the School’s simulation lab where the first-semester students were practicing. Malia was immersed intothe group and taught a variety of skills, including how to check blood pressure and pulse, how to administer medication, how to protect a seizing patient, infection precautions, and the do’s and don’ts of patient care.

“Malia is such a fast learner,” said Jessica Stillabower, a fourth-semester BSN student. Then with a laugh she added: “She learned to take blood pressure in a few minutes, whereas it took us weeks.”

After her extensive time in the School’s simulation lab, Malia felt right at home. She had befriended her fellow students and enjoyed lunch at one of the on-campus restaurants. She then spent the second half of the day in the interprofessional simulation lab in Volker Hall taking part in simulations with UAB School of Medicine students, where, she said, the nursing really impressed her.


“I had such an amazing day,” Malia said with a big grin. “I will definitely be back in two years.”

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Read 3767 times Last modified on November 23, 2015

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