Golisano leukemia patient now teaching hospital’s children alongside doctor who saved her life

Reporter: Amanda Hall
Published: Updated:
Rachel McCabe, a teacher for Golisano Children’s Hospital, reads to a child. (Lee Health)

Rachel McCabe teaches full-time at Golisano Children’s Hospital.

Thursday’s reading lesson is in an exam room, a place, oddly enough, of comfort.

“The hospital felt like home, and it still does,” she said.

McCabe spent a lot of time in the hospital growing up. She was three when she became one of the first patients of the pediatric oncology program.

Rachel McCabe finger painting from her hospital room while she was being treated for leukemia. (Provided to WINK News)

“My mom happened to be folding laundry one day in front of the TV while I was laying on the couch and I was asleep and there was a commercial on for the symptoms of leukemia, and as she was folding, all those symptoms came up and I had all of them,” she explained.

Now 20 years in remission, who better to teach these kids than someone whose been in their shoes.

“I also know what it’s like to be in that bed, and I know what it’s like for the days that we don’t feel so hot and the day that we are finally feeling good and all the ups and downs in the roller coasters that come with everything,” McCabe said.

She now works with the very doctor who saved her life.

Now teacher Rachel McCabe with Dr. Emad Salman. (Provided to WINK News)

“It means we did something right,” said pediatric oncologist Dr. Emad Salman. “We helped her, and she’s giving back. And to me, this is a calling. We do this because we want to make a difference in people’s lives. We want to make a difference in the world.”

And she is by helping fight that fear of the unknown in a way few people can.

“Some of them want to ask questions that they’re kind of afraid to ask the doctor, so that might be, ‘When’s my hair gonna fall out? What’s that going to feel like and what are people going to say?’ Or, ‘I heard that food’s going to taste kind of metally, and when does that happen and what is that going to look like,'” McCabe said.

More than anything, she helps kids feel normal when nothing around them is normal.

“My parents were very strong in instilling in me that I was never broken,” she said.

Rachel McCabe with her parents. (Provided to WINK News)

A lesson she now passes on and if we’ve learned anything, you don’t need a classroom to teach and school isn’t the only place where children learn.

September is Childhood Cancer Month.  WATCH LIVE on Facebook as pediatric cancer survivors shave the heads of community leaders every Friday at 8 AM during the month of September.  Each person having their head shaved has a personal goal of raising $2,500 or more to support kids with cancer and the pediatric hematology and oncology program at Golisano Children’s Hospital.  

You can make a donation by clicking here.

More than half of the children treated for cancer at Golisano Children’s Hospital are uninsured, on Medicaid or have no form of payment. Because of Barbara’s Friends, no child is denied treatment or turned away as a result of their family’s inability to pay for care. 

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