Like any nurse, Devon Fortier felt a call to caring for others in need when she chose her profession. And like many other nurses, a personal connection to the health care field drove her decision.
But Fortier’s own life experience as a childhood cancer survivor makes her career as a chemotherapy nurse at Dartmouth and Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) all the more meaningful.
When Fortier, a Newbury native, began experiencing a persistent back ache and waning energy at age 7, her mother knew something wasn’t right. Once tests started revealing elevated white blood cell counts, Fortier and her mother were connected with NCCC, where she would be diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, one of the most common childhood cancers.
She lived for three months in the inpatient unit at NCCC, and her entire course of treatment went on for three years.
Her treatment was ultimately successful. Now 23, Fortier is cancer-free — and as an adult, she has dedicated her life to helping fellow cancer patients.
Fortier became a licensed nursing assistant (LNA) as a teenager and then earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing from the University of New Hampshire. When it came time for hands-on experience during nursing school, the nurse manager interviewing Fortier for a per diem LNA position asked her why she wanted to work in oncology.
“I hadn’t really thought about exactly why,” Fortier said. “I ended up telling him that I had cancer once, and he said, ‘Well that’s certainly enough of a reason!’”
As an oncology nurse, Fortier has a unique perspective to understand what goes into her patients’ medical decision-making and family meetings.
“As I grew up, I thought maybe using the relatability of what I’ve been through could be an advantage in a certain role,” she said.
No stranger to challenges, Fortier completed her nursing degree during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, a year of fundamental learning through the Oncology Nursing Society and 12 hands-on weeks through the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Nurse Residency program led to Fortier’s full independence as a chemotherapy-certified registered nurse — almost 16 years to the day from her final chemo treatment at NCCC.
“I get anxious about things. But the training slowly builds, and then one day you realize you’re signed off in chemotherapy, and it dawns on you that everything is working out and you’re there for a reason, doing what you were meant to do,” she said. “Nurses are very capable people. It’s a great profession that can take you many places.”
What Fortier finds most rewarding: forming special bonds with her patients and their families.
“I don’t disclose my story to everyone. But if there’s a moment when it feels right, like when I know a patient needs that kind of comfort, or if they notice my medi-port scar, we find ourselves on common ground and can talk about it,” she said.