An Oncology Nurse Who Is Part of a Patient's Team

Extraordinary Healer®Extraordinary Healer® Volume 17
Volume 17

An interview with Abbey Kaler, M.S., APRN, FNP-C, CMSRN, winner of the 2023 Extraordinary Healer® award.

Abbey Kaler wearing a purple dress, waking and talking with Alex Frenzel, who is wearing black pants and a green jacket. Photo by Diana Chavez

Abbey Kaler, M.S., APRN, FNP-C, CMSRN (left), touched the lives of many patients with cancer, including Alex Frenzel (right).

Photo by Diana Chavez

Most 9-year-old children are innocent and carefree, with the challenges and travails of adulthood still far ahead of them. But for Abbey Kaler, M.S., APRN, FNP-C, CMSRN, that wasn’t the case. When she began vomiting and having headaches, her parents became worried, and when she fainted and woke up with tunnel vision, her mother rushed her to the emergency department. There she received a diagnosis of juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, a rare childhood brain tumor.

After surgery to remove the benign tumor, Kaler spent two weeks in recovery and then was referred to The University of Texas MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital in Houston to monitor her health to make sure the growth didn’t return. Although she didn’t know it at the time, the experience would guide her career path as an adult.

In fifth grade, “I had to complete a science fair project. I chose to learn more about the anatomy of the brain,” she remembers. “The science fair project helped me to understand in my own way about the diagnosis and my new reality.”

Remembering how caring and helpful the nurses at MD Anderson had been, Kaler decided she wanted to be a healer as well. She earned a Bachelor’s of Science in nursing at Baptist Health Sciences University in Memphis, Tennessee, then returned to MD Anderson as a clinical nurse on a general internal medicine and telemetry unit, where she worked with patients in phase 1 clinical trials.

“That was my goal,” she says, “to return to the institution that had cared for me and my family at such a vulnerable time. I wanted to provide the same level of care in my work that was shown to us.”

As a bedside nurse on the telemetry floor for five years, Kaler honed her skills working with patients at the most vulnerable time in their lives, just as nurses had cared for her. It also was where she realized the importance of patient education.

“I believe that knowledge is power,” she says. “Working with patients to teach them and help them understand more about their unique situation is truly a highlight of my career.”

Kaler returned to school to earn a master’s degree and family nurse practitioner (FNP) certification in 2015. In her last semester of the master’s degree program, she completed a practicum in the Nellie B. Connally Breast Center at MD Anderson and immediately knew she’d found her niche.

“I fit well with the team of physicians, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and nurses,” she says. “The Advanced Breast Cancer (ABC) program was hiring for the role of APRN (advanced registered nurse practitioner) navigator about the time I graduated with my master’s degree and FNP certification.” She was offered the job and immediately accepted it, a position she still holds.

But Kaler had a desire for further education. She is in her second year of a doctorate program, while still working full time at the MD Andersen ABC program. She has written a paper to define patient voice in the metastatic cancer population. It describes how it can be incorporated into a patient’s overall care plan to improve patients’ experiences in treatment.

But her true calling is still one-on-one patient care. “I love being an APRN navigator!” Kaler says. “I love talking with my patients and helping to educate them on their current situation. I enjoy being part of their support structure and creating a relationship – knowing I’m part of their team and will always be there to support them.”

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