Teen follows in the footsteps of hero nurses who treated her rare cancer
“I am very excited to be following in the footsteps of the nurses who took amazing care of me and hopefully I can be like them one day” – those are the words of a former cancer patient who is now studying to become a nurse herself.
Zoe Magness was inspired to apply for her nursing course at Winchester University, by the incredible teams who cared for her at St George’s Hospital.
Having started her course this year, she said: “I’m really enjoying my nursing training. So far, we’ve been taught lots of clinical skills, but I’ll soon be going out on my first placement at Southampton Children’s Hospital, and I can’t wait to get started with that.”
Zoe has even started to think about which areas she’d like to specialise in. “From spending a fair amount of time in hospital, I have areas that interest me, like surgery,” she said.
“I had surgery under local anaesthetic, and it was really interesting to see the work nurses do to help with that.”
Zoe was diagnosed with Type 1 Pleuropulmonary Blastoma, a rare type of childhood lung cancer, in 2009 when she was just four years old. The cancer itself was only discovered in 1991 and even when Zoe was diagnosed, there was little known about its cause.
When doctors found a tumour on Zoe’s right lung, she immediately began chemotherapy treatment and was transferred to St George’s Hospital’s Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) as her condition deteriorated.
Zoe continued: “Thinking back on my nursing team at St George’s Hospital, I had a close relationship with nurses, but particularly Sherley Wilson, who used to read stories to me on the PICU. It’s care like that that I was so grateful for that made me want to become a nurse.”
Nikki Rennie, Zoe’s mother, feared the worst when Zoe was unwell: “We were so worried she wasn’t going to pull through. Zoe was unconscious in intensive care for seven weeks. At one point we were told to call our family to come and say their goodbyes, but the PICU team never gave up, trying different ways to support her breathing, giving her a tracheostomy, and dealing with a collapse in her healthy lung.”
She added: “The caring staff did everything they could to make her as comfortable as possible, but I had a lump in my throat every day wondering if she was going to wake up or even make it through the day”.
After three months in PICU, Zoe’s condition started to improve, she regained consciousness and had her tracheostomy removed. By this point, Nikki said that St George’s started to feel more like a second home to the whole family.
Zoe continued to be treated by the team at St George’s Hospital throughout much of her childhood, and all these years later she’s training to become a children’s nurse.
Nikki said: “Zoe is definitely inspired by the medical staff she met during her treatment, and now she continues to meet amazing nurses on a daily basis that keep her motivated and support her during her training. We are so grateful to everyone who has been part of her journey.”
Nikki holds the team at St George’s Hospital in high regard: “The nurses and play specialists did such kind things to help keep Zoe entertained when she was little, such as reading to her or playing games.
“We were allowed to take her into the hospital garden so she could have fresh air after being inside for weeks. They were always there to support my partner and me through the most difficult times throughout Zoe’s cancer treatment.
“There were times when we thought Zoe didn’t have a future, so we are incredibly proud of how far she has come, both with her health but also academically as Zoe is dyslexic, too, and has worked so hard to get to university and chase her dream.”
St George’s has been providing specialist children’s cancer care for more than 25 years. But the future of children’s cancer services is changing as NHS England is reviewing where a Principal Treatment Centre for these services should be located. St George’s is one of two options.
Zoe said: “I loved St George’s because I got to know the people so well, and I know there will be children and families now who won’t want their care to change hands.
“I come from Bexley in Kent, and St George’s has also been good for my care as we’ve never had any trouble getting there or finding parking.”
Arlene Wellman, Group Chief Nursing Officer for St George’s, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals and Health Group, said: “I know I speak on behalf of the whole team at St George’s in congratulating Zoe for getting into university and taking the first step in her nursing career.
“The care from our teams is unparalleled and I’m so proud to see what a positive influence our nurses have had.
“I’d like to wish Zoe all the best of luck, and I’m sure we’d love to welcome her into a role at St George’s in the future!
“We want to continue to build on the outstanding care we provide for children with cancer – but time is running out to have your say. Please take the time to fill in the consultation and tell people why kids deserve St George’s.”
To find out more about the consultation and to complete it before the closing date of Monday 18 December, visit: https://www.stgeorges.nhs.uk/news/kids-deserve-st-georges/