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Patient Stories

When Family Members Become Patients

Personal Experience Leads to Compassionate Care

As a nurse practitioner in the Division of Immunotherapy and Autoimmune Disease at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Michelle Calvario, MS, APRN-CNP, AGACNP-BC, has a unique perspective to share with her patients and their family members because she has been in their shoes — twice. Calvario’s sister was treated at Northwestern Memorial Hospital for a rare lymphoma and then, months later, her mother was diagnosed with stage three lung cancer.

“I don’t know what type of nurse practitioner I would be if not for the experiences my family has gone through,” Calvario says. “My experience with my mom and sister impacts the care I give to my patients every single day.”

A Recurrence of Lymphoma

Less than a year after Calvario started working at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, her sister, Kristin Suma, learned that her rare lymphoma returned after three years in remission. Suma had previously undergone chemotherapy where she lives in Northern Virginia, but this time, she required a stem cell transplant along with several months of chemotherapy and radiation. Seeking the best care for her condition, Suma packed up with her husband and two children and moved to Chicago to begin treatment at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Suma’s 21-day admission for her stem cell transplant was a difficult stay. “I slept on the pull-out sofa, ordered meals from dining on call, and woke up with Kristin for lab draws and from beeping IV pumps,” Calvario recalls. “I quickly understood why my patients showered Northwestern Memorial Hospital with praise. The team surrounding not only my sister, but our family, made an exhausting and terrifying process feel manageable.”

Suma has since moved back to Northern Virginia and is now two years cancer-free.

Another Cancer Diagnosis

Just a few months after Suma’s stem cell transplant, cancer struck Calvario’s family again. Her mother, Marilou Calvario, a non-smoker and a nurse with 43 years of experience, was diagnosed with stage three lung cancer. Again, the family turned to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“Like a true nurse, she handled her nine rounds of chemotherapy and 30 treatments of radiation with grit and grace,” Calvario says. Her mother is still undergoing immunotherapy treatments every two weeks, but feeling strong.

Moving Forward, One Step at a Time

As Calvario reflects on her family’s cancer journey, from oncology appointments, billing and medical records phone calls, outpatient chemotherapy and immunotherapy, all the way to watching both her mother and sister ring the gong in Radiation Oncology signifying their last radiation treatments, she cannot help but feel grateful.

“My family has been so fortunate to have been cared for at Northwestern Memorial Hospital,” Calvario says. “The experience has reaffirmed my confidence in the hospital and shows that the care we provide is a real thing we are all invested in.”