Childhood cancer survivor aspires to help children with cancer

Gabi Gray can tell you how tough it can be to go through childhood cancer. "I was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma at the age of 13. My tumor was softball-sized in my right chest wall," explains Grayi from Sugar Land.

A lot has happened since that diagnosis. Gray is now a sophomore at Texas A&M University and has her eyes set on studying how she can help children one day like she experienced when she was in the hospital. 

Nicolle Bengtson is a Child Life Specialist at Texas Children's Cancer and Hematology Center who made a positive impact in Gray's life. "I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have Nicole because I know how hard it is just from personal experience of what it's like going into hospital and not knowing what your life is going to be like and how chaotic it can be. Also having your parents stressed and worried about your treatment," explains the college sophomore.


Going through cancer treatment as a young teenager was quite an adjustment for Gray. "I went from playing soccer and volleyball and going to in-person school to having all that taken away and getting used to the life of being in a hospital and hearing the sounds of beeping from the IV poles, rather than being on a soccer field or volleyball court and just laughing with all my friends in school," Gray described.

She also reflects on her treatment. "It consisted of 14 rounds of chemo and major tumor resection and right chest wall reconstruction, as well as ten rounds of chemo. So, in all it took almost a year, but it was really tough. The chemo got harder and harder every time, and I had super long hair before treatment and obviously the chemo makes your hair fall out," explained Gray.

It was during those challenging times that she relied on Nicolle. "Part of the reason why I'm here at TCH as a child life specialist is because it isn't always so easy for the kids. Each day entails pokes and tests and procedures, hearing news that maybe they weren't ready to hear, or didn't ever want to hear, and I’m there in that journey," explains Bengtson. "I can be there to support those kids when they're getting their port accessed for the first time. Their port is a device that's on their chest and they have to get it poked every day or every time they come in for their chemotherapy.

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Gray sure is relieved she had that help. "I was scared out of my mind. I have never been good with needles, anything like that, but Nicolle was there to comfort me," stated Gray.

At that time, the last thing on Gray's mind was a career path when she grew up. "Honestly, I didn't know for sure. Before college, I was thinking I would do something in business or medical, I just really wasn't sure. Then, a family friend got in a ski accident and I realized I was passionate about helping people in the medical field," explained Gray. "It just brought me peace and comfort to picture the future and I think that comes from the Lord. The thought of it makes me happy because I had Nicolle in my life and I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have Nicolle."

She also likes the idea of helping a patient's entire family, since cancer most definitely affects everyone in the family. "I'd love to just be a comforting smile and some sunshine whenever kids and families are in the hospital," says a smiling Gray.

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"It isn't always easy for the kids. Each day entails pokes and tests and procedures, hearing news that maybe they weren't ready to hear or didn't ever want to hear, but we're here for them," states Bengtson.

Now, Gray is ready to one day turn her situation full circle and Nicolle is thrilled about her decision.

"I think it is such a positive career and I love every day of my job. So, I just think it is so cool to see one of my patients take those footsteps to do what I did, and I'm excited to see her step into that role," states Bengtson. "I think she'll be an amazing child life specialist! I think she is so joyful and happy and I think she'll definitely bring light to the hospital."

For more information on the Child Life Department, click here.