Cancer Nurse Comes Full Circle to Care for Families

At age 10, Hannah McCullough, BSN, got a glimpse of her dream job. It sparkled in the eyes of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford nurses who cared for her big brother, Matthew.

McCullough brother and sister in front of a truck

It all started with the tragic news that her beloved brother had brain cancer. As a child, McCullough spent hours at his bedside at Packard Children’s. Her family lived through four years of struggle and pain, and despite it all, joy.

“I looked up to the nurses. I found their unconditional commitment to my brother’s care remarkable,” McCullough says.

She remembers being in awe at how his nurses took time out of their busy days to sit with Matthew and play cards, watch him perform magic tricks, or simply talk.

“They focused on him as a whole person. I thought that was special,” she says.

From that point on, when people asked McCullough what she wanted to be when she grew up, she had an answer: a nurse.

Becoming a nurse to honor her brother

As a young girl, McCullough practiced nursing by caring for her brother, a desire born out of her intense love for him. She would rub his back, bring him drinks, and even help adjust his lines. She was a natural. Her parents said that she was very caring and always put people first from a young age. 

Matthew McCullough

“I enjoyed taking care of Matthew and giving back to him,” she says.

When Matthew passed away, McCullough became even more committed to becoming a nurse. She took steps through the years to make her dream come true. In high school, she volunteered at cancer centers, pediatric clinics, and hospitals. She also organized a beanie drive and donated over 1,300 beanies to Packard Children’s for children who had lost their hair to cancer treatment.

“My becoming a nurse is 100% in honor of Matt. I felt the need to channel my grief and turn that tragic moment into something positive,” McCullough says.

Homing in on her dream and never losing sight

Over time, McCullough realized that she didn’t just want to be a nurse. She wanted to be a pediatric oncology nurse at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. McCullough wanted to give back to the hospital that had done so much for her brother.

Despite feeling like school never came easy, McCullough persisted and got into a respected nursing school. She feels like she worked 10 times harder than other nursing students at the University of San Francisco. She traded going out and spending time with friends for the library.

“I had a goal and I just stuck to it. It was challenging, but I was dedicated and driven,” she says.

In college, each step brought McCullough closer to her dream. She worked as a nursing assistant at Stanford Health Care for adults with cancer. Then, she transferred to Packard Children’s and worked as a nursing assistant in the Pediatric Transplant Center.

“After graduation, I applied for the new grad program at Packard Children’s in the hematology/oncology unit, and I got in!” McCullough exclaims.

She did it. She’s now a nurse on the same unit that cared for her brother years ago.

Becoming the nurse she admired and giving back

“I’m 25 and in my dream job, and it feels like I have come full circle,” McCullough says.

McCullough, RN, in front of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, in Palo Alto, CA

In the hallways, she sees familiar faces from her childhood, including Jake Lore, a child life specialist with whom her family stayed close through the years. She feels spoiled and loved by her colleagues, and she appreciates being a part of a culture that’s warm, open, and based on mutual respect.

“The hope in the eyes of the patients and families keeps me going. Hope was our family motto, too,” she says. “I try to instill that hope in others.”

Today, McCullough is one of those nurses she admired so much as a child. She finds the time, even on very busy days, to truly be there for patients and families.

“I find pockets of time to hang out with families. I get really close to them, especially the siblings,” McCullough says. “I want to make sure they are heard and feel loved and welcomed.”  


3 Responses to “Cancer Nurse Comes Full Circle to Care for Families”

  1. Julie Hansen

    What a beautiful and inspirational story! Hannah, your patients and families are so blessed to have you as their nurse.


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