Erika Rucks is a pediatric oncology nurse at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Not only is she a compassionate, skilled, medical professional, but she offers something more to her young patients: she is fighting cancer just like they are.
“By helping them go through their cancer journey, I’m learning from them how to go through my own cancer journey,” Rucks said.
When Rucks was only 15 years old, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. She underwent chemotherapy, twelve radiation treatments, and lost her hair. Her treatment was successful, and she was declared cancer-free.
Rucks’ personal experience with cancer — especially her interactions with the nurses who cared for her — inspired her to become a nurse herself. She earned a nursing degree at the University of Minnesota, and specialized in pediatric oncology.
“Seeing the kids and knowing that I share part of their journeys is how I knew where I belonged,” she said.
In the summer of 2019, though, Rucks underwent a routine mammogram and got shocking news: she had breast cancer. It had already spread to her spine, which meant she was stage IV.
Tragically, the cause of her breast cancer may be due to the radiation treatments she had endured as a teenager. Researchers and doctors have learned a lot more about the late effects of cancer treatment in childhood since Rucks had it. And the radiation she had? It was centered on her chest.
“We never know 100 percent, but I think it’s very likely,” she said. “In trying to save my life then, it gave me an incurable cancer now.”
Rucks has three beautiful little girls with her husband Chris, and she is focusing on spending time with them and helping the children that she sees in the hospital. She tries not to think about what the odds are for her type of cancer. Instead, she’s focusing on giving love to others while doing the job she loves.
“It’s just trying to brighten someone’s day for even a little bit,” she says. “It’s just knowing I’m trying to make a teeny-tiny difference in somebody’s life.
“That’s how I want to be remembered. I touched lives.”
We are sending lots of strength and love to this admirable woman.
Learn more about her in this video.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.