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When Mary Colasuonno, B.S.N., RN, BMTCN, set her first career goal, it was about as far from nursing as it could be: She wanted to be a commercial artist.
When Mary Colasuonno, B.S.N., RN, BMTCN, set her first career goal, it was about as far from nursing as it could be: She wanted to be a commercial artist. In her senior year of high school, one of her paintings won a contest sponsored by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and it appeared on the front page of the newspaper. That led to a number of offers to attend local art schools. But Colasuonno felt that in order to succeed at an art career, she needed to be in a place with a vibrant art scene. So at age 20, she boarded a Greyhound bus to California.
But instead of the land of opportunity, California seemed to be the land of struggling artists. Sleeping on her aunt’s couch helped her financially, but she needed a source of income. So she took a job at JCPenney. While she was working there, Colasuonno began to think about her mother’s dream of being a nurse. But her mom had to drop out of high school to help her single mother provide for the family. Perhaps, Colasuonno thought, she could pick up that dream where her mother had left off.
She enrolled at Citrus College in Glendora to work on a nursing degree and started working at Methodist Hospital in Arcadia as a courier. She applied for a position in the surgery department and was offered a job as a surgical assistant. In 1987, she was laid off from that job but immediately took another as an anesthesia technician while still attending college, eventually attaining her associate’s degree in nursing and setting her sights on becoming an RN. Citrus College didn’t offer that program, so Colasuonno moved to Pasadena City College, from which she graduated in 1989.
“But my very last clinical was at City of Hope, where I worked with cancer patients. And I just fell in love with the patients there,” she says. “Working in surgery, I didn’t really get to know them, but in oncology, you get to sit and talk with patients and provide an ear when they need to talk to someone about what they’re going through.”
Before long Colasuonno was working at City of Hope in Duarte as an interim practice nurse, helping patients with aggressive breast, bone marrow, testicular and other cancers. When the hospital opened a bone marrow oncology unit in 1991, she worked there as a bedside and charge nurse for the next 10 years, earning her oncology nursing certification in 1993.
But working full time while raising three boys was taking its toll, and in 2001 Colasuonno left her job to become a stay-at-home mom. With her innate desire to help others, she was anything but idle, volunteering at her church and her boys’ schools. But gradually, she began to miss clinical life.
“Even though I was extremely busy as a stay-at-home mother, I wasn’t getting the mental stimulation you have when you’re working as a nurse,” she remembers. When she finally picked up the phone and called City of Hope, the first person she reached was her former interim manager, and soon Colasuonno was back in the career she loves.
“Because I hadn’t been there for (more than 7) years, I asked to be put with a group of newly graduated residents,” she says. “They really impressed me with how smart they were, and it became apparent that there were things I didn’t know that I felt I should. So at 50 years of age, I decided to go back to school for my bachelor’s degree.”
Colasuonno notes that although nurses often assume the role of teacher, it’s a two-way street — their patients often educate and inspire them as well. One of her patients had been so sick as a child that her parents thought she had died, but she told Colasuonno that she knew it wasn’t her time yet. After her ordeal, she felt every day was a blessing and was no longer afraid to die.
“She’s not the only patient with those kinds of stories,” Colasuonno says. “Moments like that with my patients really make me feel I was meant to be a nurse.”
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