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

Fond memories of chemotherapy nurses make 15-year-old Pell City High School student want to become one.
Written by: Catie Etka
Media Contact: Adam Pope

Malia McCoy, a 15-year-old from Pell City, Ala., 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 diagnosis to a future as a nurse herself.

“Malia realized what a huge difference she could make and that she could save someone’s life as 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 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 McCoy family and the University of Alabama at BirminghamSchool of Nursing to coordinate a day at nursing school for her.

When she arrived on campus the morning of Nov. 17, she was given a pair of monogrammed UAB School of Nursing scrubs and a skills kit bag — just as is any student who enrolls in the school. She immediately felt that she belonged. She shadowed fourth-semester Bachelor of Science in Nursing student Angelica Chapman, who is a non-childhood leukemia survivor.

malia mccoyCancer survivor Malia McCoy, right, from Pell City received the opportunity of a lifetime by shadowing UAB School of Nursing students for a day.Malia says going through chemotherapy fascinated her and led her to think of becoming a nurse. She remembers her wonderful nurses and decided she wanted to help others overcome illnesses through one-on-one patient care, just as Chapman did.

“Coming from my own past with cancer, I know what it’s like to be in her shoes,”  Chapman said. “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 Chapman and several other BSN students in the school’s simulation lab where first-semester students were practicing. She was immersed into the group and was taught a variety of skills, including how to check blood pressure and pulse, how to administer medication, and how to protect a seizing patient, as well as 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 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 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.”