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Nurses Week: Cancer Survivor Karla Lopez, RN, Goes Above and Beyond

Pediatric Nurse Who Battled Cancer and Couldn't Have Her Own Children Says Young Patients Are Her Family

Before Karla Lopez earned her RN degree, she was a unit secretary at Cedars-Sinai who was so impressed with the nurses on her team that she decided to become one herself.

"I was able to see the nurses and how they would react to emergencies and how critical they were,” Lopez said, “and I admired them, and I wanted to be like them. So I went to nursing school."  

But toward the end of her first year of nursing school, Lopez was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She had to undergo chemotherapy, radiation and three surgeries that involved resecting part of her colon.

It was a scary setback, but Lopez wouldn't let it stop her from accomplishing her goal of earning her degree. In fact, she says, her drive to become a nurse kept her going.

"I wanted to become an amazing nurse," she said, "so I fought through and … here  I am a pediatric nurse.”

Her love of caring for patients has rewarded Lopez with honors including a Daisy nursing award and Standing Ovations from patients and their families. But that’s not even the best part, Lopez said.  

The best gift nursing gave Lopez was showing her another way to mother after cancer treatments caused infertility, Lopez said.

“I felt like, yes, my fertility was taken, that it was not my calling to be a mother,” Lopez said, “but God gave me a chance to take care of other people's kids."

Lopez’s colleagues say she gives her all to each patient. "She's a gift to everyone whose life she touches," said Sandie Sternberg, supervisor of Child Life Services. "She is what every nurse should strive to be."

Lopez says being a gastrointestinal cancer patient gave her the tools to relate to the children being treated for cancer and GI diseases, as well as to their families. She is able to explain the process and tell them she knows what they are going through.

"I'm all in it with my heart," Lopez said. "I care for the children like a mother would."

Caitlin Meaney was one of Lopez' cancer patients. The teenager spent a great deal of time in the hospital and became very close with her care team. Lopez said Caitlin always wanted to skydive, but her physicians wouldn’t give their okay.

When Caitlin was in Lopez’s care, Lopez told her young patient that she would skydive for her and got a thumbs-up in return. Lopez skydived for the first time wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Caitlin’s photo. Caitlin passed away a year ago. Lopez marked the anniversary of her passing with another jump in her patient’s honor.  

As Cedars-Sinai celebrates Nurses Week, Lopez wants families to know what a caring profession nursing is..

“If you have your father here, I'm going to treat him as if he were my father,” Lopez said. “If you have your baby here, I'm going to treat them as if it were my baby.”