With a deep fear of procedures and needles, Julie Metz hardly seemed like the type to go into the nursing field. But after receiving heartbreaking news about her son, Julie jumped into action—and discovered inspiration all around her.
“It was a lightbulb moment,” she said.
In August 2003, her son Joshua was diagnosed with cancer—a tumor in the thalamus, a central section deep inside the brain responsible for processing messages from the body and stimulating a reaction.
He had just turned 3.
The Waiting Game
The diagnosis wasn’t easy on the family, but the news about what to do next was even harder. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan showed the tumor was inoperable; doctors told the Metz family they wanted to wait and see whether the tumor grew before they risked performing a biopsy.
In April 2004, after several more MRIs, doctors performed a stereotactic biopsy, a minimally invasive procedure that takes samples of tissue after mapping the brain. The findings were mixed; again, the family waited.
The tumor had caused severe vision problems, from differently sized pupils to a wandering eye, and while eye surgery would not correct the tumor, it could counteract some of the effects.
For two weeks after the October surgery, Joshua’s vision markedly improved. That soon reversed, however. After another MRI, his neuro-oncologist informed Julie the tumor had significantly progressed.
In December 2004, Joshua’s chemotherapy port was inserted. He began the first round of two protocols of treatment at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
A Change of Heart
A full-time mom to four kids, Julie soon found herself spending hours at Scottish Rite hospital, whether at the Aflac Cancer Center or the Emergency Department. Her aversion to needles fell away as she watched Joshua’s healthcare team—particularly his nurses—care for him. She wanted to do anything she could to keep her sick child comfortable.
“As a parent, I just dealt with it,” Julie said. “Medically, I was exposed to more, and pretty soon, I was asking what I could do to help them.”
Julie’s grandmother and aunt had served as nurses for their entire careers, and most of her college roommates had become nurses, but she never thought the field was for her.
The support she and Joshua received from the Aflac Cancer Center nurses changed her perspective—and inspired her to choose a new path.
“Nurses have the ability to make an unbearable day tolerable,” Julie said. “Being there for families in that moment has a tremendous, lasting impact. It will always have an impact on me.”
In January 2009, about a year and a half after Joshua completed his second chemotherapy protocol, Julie started taking prerequisite classes for nursing school. She began working on the neurosurgery unit at Scottish Rite in 2011 and fell in love with the job—and the children she encountered every day.
“This is just what I was meant to do,” Julie said. “I believe Joshua’s diagnosis and treatment have a greater purpose, whether it means I can help even one family or many.”
Getting on with Life
His chemotherapy regimens complete, Joshua was monitored closely by his team at Children’s, getting an MRI every three months. Three months became four, then six, and now, at 13, Joshua gets an MRI once a year. While the tumor is still there, the chemotherapy has caused it to stop growing.
“He’s doing great,” Julie said. “He’s a teenager. We’re going on with life.”
With a talent for Spanish, Joshua wants to strengthen his language skills and travel to other countries as a missionary when he gets older.
In the meantime, Julie is focused on providing the same level of care and compassion that Joshua’s nurses showed her entire family.
“I wouldn’t have chosen this path if it weren’t for the nurses we encountered,” she said. “From the schedulers to the office staff to the nurses, so much of my inspiration comes from the people we met during treatment.”