Losing a spouse is never easy. Kara McGee remembers taking her late husband into the oncology office as he battled pancreatic cancer. She soon lost her husband to the disease, which led to a drastic career change. After seeing the compassion and bravery of the nurses who cared for her late husband, McGee decided to pursue a career in nursing to support her family and help others in the same way those nurses did.
The Ultimate Caregivers
McGee, 40, says she was blown away by the care she and her husband received at the oncology office in Columbus, OH. She remembers bringing him to the facility in the middle of night, fearing the worst.
“When we went to the oncology office, those nurses were the people we interacted with the most. Those were the people you called in the middle of the night when something happens and you don’t know what to do,” she said.
McGee says the nurses seemed to know what she and her husband needed before they knew it themselves. Oncology nurses are known for their compassion and grace when dealing with cancer patients. They are the ones overseeing the patient’s vitals and cancer treatment as the family waits for a miracle.
When her husband passed away, McGee says she didn’t have a lot of time to mourn his death. She had to start providing for her two small children Avery, 8, and Dylan, 6. Her spousal benefits would soon expire, and her work as a teacher wasn’t going to pay the bills.
That’s when she first got the idea to become a nurse, just like the amazing providers that helped her family when they needed it most. “Maybe that’s what I could do, maybe that’s my purpose now,” McGee remembers thinking at the time.
Fulfilling Her Dreams
McGee is now in her second semester of Xavier University Columbus’s accelerated nursing program and is set to graduate next spring. The program packs around four years of learning into just 16 months. She hopes to work as an oncology nurse, but the transition has been anything but easy. Between going back to school, raising her kids, and mourning the loss of her husband, she admits she’s had doubts along the way.
“I had a lot of hesitancy early on, starting a new and different career at 40 years old. But once I started my first clinical, I haven’t felt — in college or in my career — this at peace with a decision,” she said.
While describing herself as an introvert, she says she became more outspoken and motivated during her first clinical rotation as a nurse than at any other point in her life.
“I told myself I have to put myself out there…if there’s a procedure to try, I have to be the one to volunteer,” she recalled.
Her family was caught off guard by her decision to go back to school and pursue nursing in the middle of a global pandemic. As Barbara Adams, McGee’s mother, remembers it, “Initially, I was like, ‘Seriously, you want to do this? It sounds challenging,’”
However, Adams was surprised with how much her daughter took to her new goal. “I do think she’ll make a great nurse,” Adams said. “She has compassion, and being through what she’s experienced has given her perspective.”
Her professors have been impressed with her work, as well. Angela Phillips, assistant director of Xavier’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, commented, “I’m honored she chose our program. She’s taken something so tragic and turned it into something good.”
Melanie Palsgrove, now a close friend, credits McGee with saving her life after her own husband died. She says she felt alone in the world until she received a letter from a woman she never met. McGee wrote to Palsgrove because their kids take the same gymnastics class.
“It moved me so much that a stranger would do this,” Palsgrove remembered. “She used her loss and experience to help me. If it wouldn’t have been for her, I’m not sure I’d be alive. I had no will to live.”
The two women are now closer than ever, usually holding playdates with their kids.
After everything she’s been through, McGee says nursing feels like a natural fit. It’s given her the experience she needs to become an effective oncology nurse. “I truly do know what they’re going through,” McGee said. “It will help me provide very patient-centered care. I’m not there to unload my story, and I might not even go there…but I might know what they need, even if they can’t verbalize it.”