Georgia childhood cancer survivor becomes pediatric cancer nurse

At home in Alpharetta, Georgia, Julia York is studying for her nursing boards.

The 22-year-old, who recently graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), already has a job lined up.

She starts in July.

Julia York

Julia York, 22, poses outside the UAB School of Nursing. (UAB School of Nursing)

"I will be working at the hematology, oncology, bone marrow transplant unit at Children's of Alabama," York smiles.

Much of what York is studying, she has lived.

"I was diagnosed when I was 12-years-old with a brain tumor," she says.

Within days, York began radiation at Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

"The prognosis for me was about 11 months, when I was diagnosed," she says. "So, I wasn't supposed to make it to 13-years-old."

Fortunately, York didn't know how bleak things were at the time.

Dr. Natia Esiashvili, an oncologist with Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, explained to York's parents privately the cancer was aggressive, and surgery was not an option because of where the tumor was located.

"Obviously the most challenging parent, at least emotionally, is when we have to discuss prognosis," Dr. Esiashvili says. "Typically, this has to be very frank, as hard as this is.vWe need to explain to them that these tumors are very hard to cure and chances were very slim for Julia."

York pushed through 33 radiation treatments.

"I remember we were leaving radiation one day, and I looked at my mom and I said, 'I hate doctors," she says.  "Because I was so tired. There were definitely times when I was scared, or I felt broken by treatments, just because I was so exhausted."

But, as the months passed, something unexpected happened.  

The tumor starting shrinking, dying.

Ten years later, she still gets yearly brain scans, but there is no sign of cancer.

"I technically still have a brain tumor; it's just dead tissue," she says.

Holly's York feels Julia has come full circle.

"It's amazing that she is where she is, when you're looking at, is she going to be a teenager, is she going to drive a car, is she going to graduate from high school, much less graduate from college with a nursing degree," her mother says.

When Julia met Alabama Children's oncology team at a job fair, she realized that was where she needed to be.

"They were telling me about their patients, and I said, 'I hate to cut you off, but you don't need to tell me about your patients, because I was one," she says. "I think having friends who haven't survived their journey and already experiencing that kind of loss kind of gives me just that extra resiliency."

Holly York says Julia knows her story will give others hope.

"Her middle name is Hope," her mother says.  "We always said the hope was built in.  She is hoping to give others hope that she made it through the process, and they can make it, too."