Not everyone can remain positive in sad situations, however, pediatric primary nurse Jo Brooks does this on a daily basis while working at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
After attending the University of Calgary for social work in 1979, Brooks decided the program was not for her due to faculty issues and transferred into their nursing program, graduating in 1984.
Always being intrigued by oncology, Brooks applied for an oncology position right before graduation. She landed a floor nurse position at the old Foothills hospital and eventually transitioned over to a primary nurse position at the Alberta Children’s Hospital a few years later.
Unit one at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, sometimes referred to as the ‘cancer’ unit, is often a whirlwind of emotions. Whether it be sadness, happiness, grief or shock — you can find it all there.
One of the toughest parts of being a primary nurse, Brooks says, is the helplessness she sometimes feels.
“I had one point in time where I had probably five kids on my caseload that were all dying at the same time. And I remember I went to five funerals, like in five, six months.”
Brooks explains this moment was striking, as she was surprised to see so many parents and family members of other families with sick kids attending these funerals, all while dealing with their own grief.
That is part of what has kept her on the unit so long — the families.
“[Being] able to come outside of your own suffering to support someone else in theirs — you really get to see human beings at their very, very best,” says Brooks.
The Profeits are one family that Brooks has had an immense impact on.
“She was just a very bright spot in an otherwise dark situation,” says Carrie Profeit, the mother of one of Brooks’ past patients diagnosed with cancer.
Profeit has known Brooks for over four years and says that she was often there for her family — always sharing her knowledge without making them feel overwhelmed during their child’s diagnosis and treatment.
“She never made you feel like you were just a number or just another family. You were always the most important family for her when she was talking to you,” Profeit explains.
Coworker and primary nurse Paula Hakkola sees how Brooks prioritizes her patients and their families on a daily basis.
“They almost feel like Jo (is) their mama bear and that they can call her with anything,” says Hakkola. “They can cry on the phone with her because she is like their protector almost, their confidant.”
Hakkola has looked up to Brooks since the day she met her a decade ago, always hoping to be a primary nurse one day.
“I just remember looking at her and being like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to be you when I grow up.’”
Although Hakkola works with Brooks every day, she is constantly in awe of how she goes about her day in an incredibly positive way — often singing and dancing everywhere she goes.
“I’m so lucky to work where I am because it’s like, ‘Man, where could I dance or sing in the middle of my office and someone would join in without even skipping a beat?’ That’s pretty fun.”
Along with singing, dancing and making silly jokes behind closed doors on a daily basis, Hakkola hopes to gain more knowledge throughout her time spent with Brooks at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
“I want to learn (more) from her because before she leaves, I have a lot more to learn,” says Hakkola.
Looking into the future, Brooks says she has no set plans for the next phase of her life. Her career has really showed her how ‘finite’ life can be sometimes.
“I just have faith, so whatever I need my life path to be — that it’s going to unfold that way.”
Brooks hopes to retire within the next few years and spend more time travelling with her husband Roger.
“I just want to leave knowing that I was able to give 150 per cent, that I left with as much compassion and energy and enthusiasm for my work as I did when I started.”