Voices of the NIH Community

“You only get 10 minutes to cry”

Anita Oko-Odoi and Kristen Cole talk about their work in the oncology transplant unit at the NIH, including a memorable stem cell transplant patient they both cared for.


Anita Oko-Odoi: This young lady had just come from Ecuador and she had just given birth just two weeks ago and they had to take the baby out of the womb through a C-section because she had just been diagnosed with leukemia.  The disease could progress so fast, they had to take the baby, put the baby into the incubator so she could come to the NIH and start treatment. 

It was December, maybe 10 days before Christmas, when she was admitted and you can imagine, you know, the postpartum blues, your baby taken away from you and you have to continue to fight this fight by being here.  The only family member you have is really your donor, which is the brother, and have to just forget about the pain that you are experiencing psychologically so you can focus on the transplant, the very reason that you came.

Kristen Cole: The resilience that she had to make it through all of the huge life events that she went through in such a short period of time is amazing.  How do you think she was able to cope?

Anita Oko-Odoi: She cannot do it alone.  She needs a lot of cheerleaders outside the fighting ring to help her, and I remember she’s very religious and we pray a lot together and believe it or not, she was able to walk out of here cancer-free.

Kristen Cole: That’s right.

Anita Oko-Odoi: Yeah, eight years later, she’s still free.

Kristen Cole: As a nurse, what do you think is the most important thing you had done for her?

Anita Oko-Odoi: I know when you are in the room you have to be present.  I just knew that she was very emotional and that was understood because she just had a baby and the hormones were a lot of fluctuation and it was all over the place and she used to cry. 

So I’d look at her in the eye and I said, “It’s okay to cry, but we can’t get through transplant by just sitting here and crying all the time.  You are going to cry, but you only going to get 10 minutes to cry and that’s all you get and then we have to move on to the plan of care.”  So she looked at me and she smiled and she said she agreed. 

So I say, “I don’t care what time you do it, you schedule it and I’ll give you 10 minutes and then you can cry.”  Then we can refocus, you know the very reason why she’s here and every step is an accomplishment and we get to celebrate that on a daily basis.  “Wow, you did this today and, you know, you were able to walk down the hall.  That’s really great.  You know, yesterday you were only able to do just half of the hallway, but one of these days I’ll have to chase you down, you’ll be out of these doors.”  So those are just encouraging words supporting her.  I think it really helped her.

Kristen Cole: Do you know where she is now?

Anita Oko-Odoi: Yes, she is in Ecuador.  Her daughter that she had prior to coming into the transplant is now 8 years old.  You know, she’s doing everything, you know, she’s dancing.  She comes to the NIH every year for follow up and we have the opportunity to celebrate her life and to celebrate her survival-ship and I’m so glad for that friendship and the opportunity because every time that I look at her and see a patient that comes in, I think of possibilities.  She received life and she’s living it.  You know, whenever I feel tired or feel like I can’t do this anymore, I think of her.

This page last reviewed on February 27, 2023