Cancer Survivor Becomes a Nurse: Bringing Hope to Her Patients

Today is National Cancer Survivors Day.

In celebration, we are honored to share the story of one of Cincinnati Children’s own staff members, Katie Keeler, who was inspired to become a nurse after she battled acute promyelocytic leukemia as a teenager. Now Katie works with some of the very same people who helped care for her during her own treatments at Cincinnati Children’s Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute.

Katie Keeler began experiencing flu-like symptoms and a high fever in October 2003. Her pediatrician diagnosed her illness as a viral infection and sent her home.

But as the weeks went on, Katie felt worse; she had swollen lymph nodes, got light-headed, and was finding unexplained bruises on her body.

After revisiting her pediatrician, Katie was sent to get a blood test for mononucleosis. Her doctor called soon after the test and asked Katie and her mom to meet him at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“I knew something was really wrong,” Katie recalls, “but nobody ever expects to hear cancer.”

Just one month after her 16th birthday, Katie was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a rare form of leukemia that affects blood and bone marrow, Katie received her first treatment as an inpatient at Cincinnati Children’s and was discharged three weeks later. The rest of her treatments were given on an outpatient basis.

Between October 2003 and March 2004, she underwent the first two phases of treatment, which were very aggressive, and resulted in side effects including hair loss and extreme nausea. Fortunately, the third, and final phase of treatment, was a much milder, oral medication that had fewer side effects. Katie’s hair began to grow back, she felt better, and she was able to return to school full-time for her junior year in late 2004.

Finding Her Purpose

Katie developed a close bond with the doctors and nurses caring for her. “Everyone treated me so well,” says Katie. “It was almost never about the cancer; they just connected with me on a personal level. The people who treated me at Cincinnati Children’s were amazing. I knew instantly that I wanted to be like them. I wanted to help kids like me when I grew up.”

Katie’s experience at Cincinnati Children’s ignited her passion to become a nurse.

While attending nursing school, Katie worked as a patient care assistant in the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute at Cincinnati Children’s — the very same place she underwent treatment for her cancer.

She graduated from Northern Kentucky University in December 2010 and began working as a nurse. “It’s the coolest thing ever to work with same nurses and doctors who took care of me,” Katie explains. “I just want to inspire my patients and their parents by showing them that cancer is not a death sentence. They can beat it, they can move on, and they can become something great.”

Celebrating Being Cancer-Free

On March 6, 2010, Katie reached her five-year cancer-free milestone. To celebrate, her co-workers — some of whom had cared for Katie during her illness — threw a party and gave her a pin that said ‘SURVIVOR.’

Today, Katie is a vibrant, active, 24-year- old woman. She just celebrated her marriage to David Wilson in May 2012.

The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a “survivor” as anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.

We invite you to honor a cancer survivor today by sharing a story or comment on Cincinnati Children’s Facebook page at!/cincinnatichildrensfans.

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Cincinnati Children’s News Team

About the Author:

The members of the news team at Cincinnati Children's are responsible for telling the stories of the medical center. Stories of the families we serve, research and clinical care, safe and healthy practices and happenings at the hospital. If it has to do with Cincinnati Children's, Danielle, Nick, Jim, Kate, Rachel, Terry and Shannon will keep you informed.

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  1. Kelly Madacsi June 03, 07:07
    Just wanted to tell Katie how much she means to us,Katie was a Pt Care Assistant during the 8 months my 18 year old daughter LaDonna Brady was hospitalized & treated for Childhood Acute Myeloid Leukemia, 6 months after graduating high school, Katie you always kept us smiling & laughing, we were always so happy to find out you were working, you always took the time out of your busy work schedule to come & visit in her room & just make us laugh & put hope & laughter in our lifes, we will always remember you & love you as a part of our family even though we do not keep in touch, We are so happy to hear you finished your nursing & have become a new bride,we love you Katie.thank you so much for all you brought to LaDonna's life,we hope to see you on her next check up at the end of July. LaDonna is doing very well & has been in remission now 29 months. We love you Katie, Love Kelly & LaDonna !!!
  2. Devon & Brady June 03, 10:46
    We LOVE you Ms. Katie! Congrats on the marriage!!! May God bless you and David!! xoxo
  3. Jennifer Cloutier November 14, 23:17
    I just want to say that Katie has cared for my daughter Morgan when she had an infection after her first round of chemo for Hodgkins. I remember that the night I met Katie, I had traveled back to Children's from home to spend the night with Morgan, it was the night of her 15th birthday and was struggling with feeling horrible and losing her hair..It was the time that Katie spent with Morgan that night, sharing her own story of battling Leukemia that warmed my heart. It was the first time Morgan asked questions, including one that broke my heart...she asked Katie how she lost her hair, if she wore wigs...all sorts of questions you never want to hear your child have to ask. The very next day, Morgan had a family friend come to the hospital and shave her head, and since that very day, Morgan has continued life bald & proud and I attribute a lot of Morgan's courage to Katie. That night, Katie spent well over an hour with us, but the impact she had will last a lifetime...Thank you Katie!
  4. Morgan Cloutier November 14, 23:20
    Katie, you are absolutely amazing. This year, while I was in the hospital with an infection on my fifteenth birthday, you sat in my room for over an hour and talked to me. That is the first time, I sat there and thought to myself that everything is going to be okay. It was so amazing for you to sit there, to take time out of your night, and tell me about my port, and that losimg your hair isn't all that bad. You mean so much to me and my family! :) Love you Katie!!
  5. Kim Bowman July 17, 23:58
    Katie! I just love this girl! Jakie says hi! :) Katie was also our PCA and we were thrilled when she would pop in for a visit on the floor. She is an inspiration for so many families. Her smile is beautiful. Thanks Katie for making a terrible situation better by being there. Love ya!