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Riley Hospital nurse shares personal battle with leukemia to advocate for cancer research

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Ask any nurse or doctor and they’ll say they’re advocates for cancer research. But for Rhea Watson at Riley Hospital for Children, it really hits home because it’s a battle she’s fought herself.

Watson is what they call a “warrior” at Riley Hospital, those who help kids realize they’re not alone in their sometimes scary and intimidating battle with cancer. She has also walked the halls as a patient.

“I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I was 18 years old, two weeks shy of graduating high school,” said Watson.

The next two and a half years of her life were spent in treatments and chemotherapy at Riley. It was through that battle and victory that Watson realized her true calling.

“I work with some of the doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners that treated me,” said Watson. “It’s obviously different for every cancer patient. But for the majority, I can tell you the basis of what’s going to happen and how it’s going to make the kid feel.”

Dr. Terry Vik at Riley Hospital helped care for Watson and is now working alongside her.

“I think that’s a special bond that kids can have with nurses that have been through treatment like that,” said Dr. Vik.

Sarah Amador met Watson when her son Maddox was just three and a half years old. As a mom, Amador says having a nurse who has fought leukemia gave her hope.

“I just needed her to help fill in the void of what he wasn’t able to share with us,” said Amador. “He was so young, he couldn’t describe a lot to us what was going on.”

Watson helped Maddox each step up of the way, until he too finished his treatment and had the chance to ring the bell at Riley. A moment, Amador says she will never forget.

“We’ve been waiting for that day for so long, we all just celebrated,” said Amador.

To thank nurse Watson, the Amador family had a plan. They nominated her as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Woman of the Year.

“I hate seeing the kids we lose,” said Watson. “I hate having to watch that. I hate just thinking about it. I just want to do everything I can to make sure there’s more kids like me.”

As part of the nomination, Watson is raising tens of thousands of dollars for cancer research. The deadline is days away from her own 10-year cancer free anniversary.

“Raising money is the key to supporting our research,” said Dr. Vik, “The federal government doesn’t have much in the way of funds to direct to medical research and it requires dedication of volunteers to raise funds like Rhea is doing for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.”

“This is going to be a celebration that we’re funding cancer research so more people can celebrate ten-year anniversaries,” Watson said.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Man and Woman of the Year campaign ends May 18.

Click here to visit her campaigning website and to learn more about Watson’s journey.

The funds Watson raises will directly go to cancer research here in Indiana and nationally. Click here to see how Riley Hospital for Children is benefiting from new funding initiatives and research by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

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