She was barely through her first year of high school, but Emily Gruendyke was determined to be a nurse. A pediatric oncology nurse, specifically. The young teen carefully mapped the steps she would take to achieve her career goal. Nothing was going to stand in her way. And, sure enough, today Emily is a hematology/oncology nurse at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC.
Emily’s family supported her calling from day one, especially her younger sister Amanda. Better than anyone, Amanda knew Emily would be a great oncology nurse. She experienced Emily’s nurturing care often, especially after being diagnosed with a type of cancer called neuroblastoma. The diagnosis—delivered when Amanda was 9 and Emily was 14—affected the entire family. Emily quickly learned just how isolating the disease could be — not just for the patient, but for parents and siblings.
“During the first year of Amanda’s treatment, she and my mom spent 200 nights at the hospital, which was about an hour from our home. I would only get to see them on weekends. And, as much as my friends cared, they didn’t really understand what we were all going through,” explains Emily.
When Emily was able to visit Amanda at the hospital, she noted the impact nurses had on her mom and sister.
“My hospital visits really opened my eyes to what nursing could do. I witnessed the difference a good nurse had on my mom and Amanda,” says Emily.
One experience was particularly impactful for Emily.
“The first night my mom and sister were home, following the start of her treatment, a nurse stopped by the house to show my mom how to hook up all of the medical equipment. Though I don’t blame the nurse, she breezed through all of the steps and didn’t really make sure my mom was comfortable with what she had to do. Later in the evening, I remember my mom crying at not being able to recall everything. Another nurse came out and did an amazing job educating my mom. More than that, the nurse empowered my mom as a caregiver. I knew that was the kind of nurse I wanted to be,” shares Emily.
As a CHOC hematology/oncology nurse, Emily is steadfastly dedicated to providing her patients’ families with the knowledge and confidence to take care of their children. She works hard to help her patients and families get through treatment and adjust to their “new normal.” And, just as she was inspired by her sister’s strength, she admires the inspiring resiliency of her patients. She also takes the time to acknowledge her patients’ siblings.
“A cancer diagnosis is tough on everyone and sometimes siblings can get inadvertently left out. I understand siblings’ point of view. I take time to not only ask if they have questions about cancer and involve them in the care—if that’s what they want—but I also ask them about their own interests,” says Emily, who is proud to be part of a team committed to patient- and family-centered care.
Emily’s sister lost her battle to cancer after a brave 12-year fight. Emily had been CHOC hematology/oncology nurse for four years at that point, of which Amanda was very proud. And despite the difficulties that came with having a sister with cancer, Emily’s family was grateful that she found a calling that would positively impact so many other hurting families. Emily can’t imagine doing anything else.
“Even though my sister passed away from her cancer, which was devastating to our family, I feel so strongly that being a pediatric oncology nurse is what I was made to do. I would not want any other job in the world. And I know Amanda wouldn’t want me doing any other job either,” says Emily.
CHOC Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings and ranked in the cancer specialty.