Meet Christina Alsop, a music teacher turned oncology nurse who draws daily inspiration from her mother’s fight with cancer as well as her own battle with the disease.
Nurses have a variety of backgrounds and motivations behind why they became a nurse, but Christina Alsop, oncology nurse practitioner in Renown’s Outpatient Oncology, has a background that would surprise many: She used to be a high school band director.
Alsop’s love of music started when she got a hand-me-down pair of drumsticks at just 3 years old. She got her first drum set at age 11 and grew up watching rock bands on MTV.
In January 2003, her mom, Jerie, lost her fight with cancer. Alsop made the decision to change her career.
“I was sitting in my mother’s house the day after she died, and said that I need to become a nurse and take care of cancer patients,” she says.
She had already earned biology credits in college, so she took a few more courses at a Sacramento community college. She was then accepted into the Orvis School of Nursing at the University of Nevada, Reno.
While attending nursing school, Alsop worked 12-hours shifts on Saturdays as a nurse apprentice on the oncology unit at Renown, then known as Washoe Medical Center.
A month into the start of nursing school, Alsop started getting sick often, at times having trouble breathing and coughing up blood. Doctors thought it was her asthma acting up, but a chest x-ray showed a mass in her lung. Biopsies and tests revealed it was a carcinoid tumor.
At 29 years old, Christina was going to school full-time, working as an apprentice nurse on Saturdays and had just been diagnosed with cancer. But that didn’t stop her from working toward her goal of becoming a nurse.
Doctors told her she would need to have surgery, but she was committed to school. Alsop asked her doctor if she could finish her semester of nursing school with just a month to go, and the doctor agreed. The day after her first semester ended, Alsop traveled to San Francisco to have surgery to remove the tumor.
“I literally had to have my right lung removed,” she said. “They had to remove my lower and middle lobe.”
Alsop only missed one semester while she recovered from her surgery. And after graduating nursing school, Christina became a bedside nurse on the oncology unit at Renown.
Alsop went from being a bedside nurse to working as a nurse educator, and she worked in palliative care after earning her master’s in nursing.
From losing her mother to cancer to fighting her own battle, Alsop never doubted what type of nursing she wanted to do.
“It was always oncology.” she says. “I have never wanted to take care of any other type of patient.”
Alsop’s background in music may surprise many, but there are skills she learned being a band director that she still uses today caring for her patients.
“I know how to multitask very well, and that’s a skill you have to have as a nurse,” she says. “I was responsible for every single one of my 75 students, and I had to make sure they were protected and safe — that is exactly how I feel with the patients I’m seeing today.”
Alsop said her career change to nursing has helped keep her mom close to her. She even has a bell outside her door dedicated to her mom that patients get to ring when they finish their chemotherapy treatments.
“I want to make sure my mother is always remembered,” she says. “She is the reason why I do what I do every day.”