Nursing Student Overcomes Cancer, Completes Nursing Degree

Imagine taking a leap of faith to reset your career at age 35, only to have your whole world come crashing down all around you.  A less resilient, undetermined person may have quit.  Not Katie Marlette.

Katie Marlette will graduate from the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden in May.

Katie Marlette will graduate from the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden in May.

The Williamstown resident hadn’t given much thought to a career outside of a grocery store in South Philadelphia.  After all, she had been working hard there since she was a teenager and she was pretty good at it.  But when cutbacks seemed to threaten her job, Marlette was forced to start thinking about other options.

“My brother had just graduated from college and he told me that I should go to school for nursing,” Marlette explains in a way that sounds as if she still can’t believe her brother, David Marlette, even made the suggestion. “I was in my thirties. I thought I was too old.”

A career in nursing never even crossed Marlette’s mind, but proving that it’s never too late to go back to school, she followed her David’s advice.  Marlette took courses at Camden County College while still working at the grocery store and was soon accepted to the Helene Fuld School of Nursing.  She immediately excelled.

“I loved it,” Marlette says. “I had this feeling that I was always supposed to be a nurse.”

Marlette’s new career track was unexpected, but another unforeseen event threw her off as quickly as she got on.  In 2009, about two years after she decided to go back to school to become a nurse, Marlette was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I think the first reaction is always, ‘why me?’  It can be really psychologically damaging, especially for a woman who has to have a mastectomy,” Marlette says. “I just wanted to push through it, to push it out of my mind, because my goal was to be a nurse and to start a career.  But I struggled.  I struggled with depression.”

Marlette says the cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments made it difficult to focus on her school work and she began failing classes.

“My advisers suggested that I take a leave of absence and then come back, so I did,” she says. “It was probably the best thing I could do at the time, but while I was out of school, the Helene Fuld School closed.”

After Marlette recovered, her life took another unwanted turn when her father, William Marlette, was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2011.  Using her own experience, Marlette says she was able to help her father cope with his condition.

“I used my nursing knowledge to help both of us through that time,” she says. “I got to spend the last year of his life with him, helping him and caring for him.  He was my go-to person for everything, but after going through my own experience with cancer, I was prepared to help him.”

It also inspired Marlette to continue to pursue a nursing career.

“I always wanted to be a med-surg nurse, but after my experiences, I now know that I want to go into oncology,” Marlette says. “Having been through cancer, I hope I can better relate to patients and help them.  Everyone copes differently and I want to be able to help them through it as best I can.”

In the spring of 2012, three years after her cancer diagnosis, Marlette attended an information session at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden and quickly recaptured her passion for nursing.  She transferred to Rutgers University–Camden from Camden County College, took her first nursing courses in the summer of 2012, and will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in nursing in May 2014.

“Rutgers gave me the opportunity to finish what I started,” Marlette says. “The clinical work here has given me invaluable professional experience and I’ve made a lot of great friends here. The faculty has been so encouraging.  It’s a close-knit family. To have a degree in nursing is a nice achievement, but to have one from Rutgers is a dream accomplishment.  It’s something I never thought I’d do, but here I am.”

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