Taryn Tracy Chapola ’97 was seven years into a fulfilling career as a graphic designer at Syracuse University Office of Publications and less than three months into her new role as a mother when some post-pregnancy bloodwork changed her life forever. On Jan. 20, 2005, less than a month away from her 30th birthday, Chapola was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The Syracuse native immediately began treatments and received a bone marrow transplant that July at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Her friends, including Shannon Herron Patrie ’97, Anne Doherty Satalin ’97, Kelly Stoner ’98 and former Lakers hockey player David Rogers ’98, rallied around her and raised funds for her medical needs—which kept her out of work for almost a year and half.
During that time, Chapola started to recognize the critical role the nurses played in her recovery. She set her mind on a full recovery and becoming an oncology nurse to make that kind of difference in other patients’ lives.
She returned to work as a full-time graphic designer but also enrolled into a weekend nursing program while juggling her responsibilities as a wife and mother. “I just felt this drive within me to become a nurse,” she said. “This is definitely where I am supposed to be.” Today, she works as a nurse in a private oncology practice in Syracuse. When she thinks it will help, Chapola, who celebrates her 12th “cancer-versary” or her “birthday without cancer” in July, shares her own experience with the cancer patients she treats.
“People ask me, ‘Is it sad to work with cancer patients?’” Chapola said. “I say, ‘Absolutely not.’ I feel very good about the work I am doing. I see joy and sadness but get satisfaction by helping people on their cancer journey.”
Initially, Chapola said she was hesitant to change careers because she didn’t want to “waste her degree in graphic design.” But she said she quickly realized this second career is where she needs to be now. Plus, she still puts her degree to use around the office. “Oh, I see some flyers and pamphlets that could use some design help so I will often offer up my services to try and improve them,” said Chapola, RN, OCN. “My coworkers all laugh at how excited I get when we get good paper or have new markers and pens. Never has an oncology nurse cared more about paper stock!”
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