Nurse Spotlight – Gabriella Joyette
It’s National Nursing Week, and we want to highlight nurses who spend their time as volunteers with Campfire Circle.
As a nurse in the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) unit at SickKids, Gabriella Joyette sees many kids diagnosed with various blood cancers and blood disorders, such as leukemia and neuroblastomas. Gabriella’s experience with Campfire Circle led her to where she is today. She first became a volunteer with Campfire Circle since 2019 when she was still in nursing school, and it was that volunteer experience that propelled her career towards paediatric oncology. “I knew I wanted to work in paediatrics,” says Gabriella. “But after my summer as a camp counsellor, it made me realize I wanted to work with patients with cancer.”
Gabriella heard about Campfire Circle through a professor while studying nursing at York University. The 26-year-old did more research, attended an open house with another nursing student, and they both signed up to be volunteers that summer. Gabriella volunteered at day camps in Ottawa, followed by a few weekends at camp in both the fall and winter. She continued to volunteer during the COVID-19 pandemic, and most recently volunteered as a nurse at overnight camp last summer.
Gabriella describes volunteering as part of her self-care and the experience provides her the long-term perspective she needs as a nurse in this field.
“I love seeing the kids thrive after transplant. It can be very disheartening working at the hospital. But when you go to camp, there’s a whole supportive community. The kids are having fun. They’re not just the kids with cancer.”
Most patients spend three to four weeks in the BMT unit, and Gabriella gets to know the kids and parents very well. By the time the kids make it to overnight camp, often six or more months have gone by. Some campers recognize her and get excited to see ‘Nurse Gabby,’ but it’s Gabriella who is often surprised.
“I remember seeing this one kiddo who was so weak on the transplant floor running around on the campground. I couldn’t believe it!” she says. “It’s so rewarding to see – especially for nurses who work in oncology.”
Gabriella says the role of a nurse can be so serious and kids are nervous about receiving treatment. But at camp, the medical team becomes a part of the experience. Last summer, they were involved in the camp theme. Mad scientists had gone rogue and created dinosaur eggs in the lab (aka the Med Shed). The team dressed in elaborate dinosaur costumes and even competed in camp games. “They cheered us on,” says Gabriella. “We don’t get to play like that at the hospital. At camp, I’m not the scary nurse anymore.”
At Campfire Circle’s Muskoka site, the team of nurses (usually between three to four) and a doctor perform their regular medical duties, such as dispensing medications, providing chemotherapy or IV transfusions when necessary, ensuring ports and PICC lines are dry, and taking turns being on-call.
“But the difference is, you have so much fun,” says Gabriella. “When you go to camp, you see the kids are okay. It reminds me: this is why I get up in the morning and do what I do. Kids have to have camp. It’s important for them that we show up.”