Pediatric cancer survivor, now Penn State Health nurse, passes along hope

By: Carolyn Kimmel

The first time she lost a young patient to the same foe that almost claimed her life, Corene Parrish came face to face with a new enemy - survivor’s guilt.

“As a pediatric oncology nurse, you become so close with these kids and their families. This mom was breaking down after her child passed away, and suddenly I thought, ‘Why am I here? Why did my treatment work and this one didn’t?’” said Parrish, a Schuylkill County native who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 16 and treated at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

The answer is always a puzzle, but one piece of it Parrish says she knows for sure is the reason she became a nurse: “I want to pass on strength and hope, to share my story and help these children know that, yes, bad things happen, but how you overcome them is what matters,” said Parrish, who currently works as a maternal/child float pool nurse at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

An undeniable connection

Being able to tell a teenager who is heartbroken over losing her hair that she too was bald during junior year, or sharing with a five-year-old that she also hated the smell of the saline flushing through her IV builds an immediate bond of trust, Parrish said.

“My mantra is ‘Always rise above.’ I remember my doctor encouraging me to think of my cancer as a speed bump on the road to what would be the rest of my life, and that was such a grounding moment for me,” said Parrish, who underwent chemotherapy and was cancer-free within four months.

The next chapter of her life included a decision to enroll in an accelerated bachelor of science nursing program after college. She’s currently studying to become a pediatric acute care nurse practitioner and hopes to work in a cancer survivorship clinic.

“I love connecting with kids for life after cancer,” Parrish said. “I want to help them deal with the whole experience of having cancer that I didn’t expect - the long-term effects from chemo, the constant checkups, the fear of recurrence.”

A fulfilled calling

It’s always been her dream to work at the place that she says saved her life.

“One of the best things about working at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is the sense of camaraderie here. You never feel like you can’t approach someone for help, which makes it easy to step outside your comfort zone and take on a new challenge,” she said.

Professional development and staff suggestions for enhancing patient care are highly valued, Parrish said.

A perfect landing place

An undeniable benefit of working at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital is access to all the resources that come from being part of central Pennsylvania’s only locally based academic medical center, she said.

“There’s that continuum of care for people from birth through adulthood,” Parrish said. “Penn State Health uses a patient-centered model of care that’s very fulfilling to me as a nurse. My personal knowledge and skill set have grown immensely here.”

Find out more about nursing careers at Penn State Health