Hannah’s Story: From City of Hope Patient to City of Hope Nurse

February 15, 2018 | by Alison Shore

Hannah Komai | City of Hope Hannah Komai, R.N., B.S.N., former osteosarcoma patient and current City of Hope nurse
We all know stories about people carving out careers based on an inspirational event or person. The professional athlete who admired an Olympian. The visionary entrepreneur who, as a middling student, was encouraged by a teacher who saw untapped potential. The writer who took pen to paper after reading a great book.
For Hannah Komai, R.N., B.S.N., a registered nurse in pediatric hematology/oncology at City of Hope, inspiration came by way of another pediatric oncology nurse, Molly Lambert. In the summer of 2010, then-20-year-old Komai was about to enter Pacific Lutheran College in Tacoma, Washington, on a scholarship for physical therapy. The plan was derailed when, on a trip home to Southern California, Komai found out she had osteosarcoma (cancer of the bone). Lambert helped her navigate the very challenging terrain of cancer and its treatment, deeply affecting Komai and influencing her journey from cancer patient to cancer nurse.

What led to your diagnosis of osteosarcoma?

While I was visiting family, a friend convinced me to see a doctor about chronic pain I’d been having in my right leg. I went to an orthopedist who suspected osteosarcoma, and he sent me to City of Hope, where I received the diagnosis. It was a rare form of childhood osteosarcoma, seen mostly in kids ages 12 to 19.
What happened after the diagnosis? Did you consider getting a second opinion?
No second opinion — my orthopedist insisted City of Hope is where I wanted to be. They treated us so well from the moment we set foot on the campus — there was no desire to go elsewhere. They also moved through things so quickly, and we liked that! I began chemotherapy less than a week after the diagnosis, which lasted for 15 weeks — I would get chemo for three weeks, as an inpatient, then the two weeks following I was at home, but still going to the hospital to receive fluids and blood and platelet transfusions.
After chemo, I had limb salvage surgery: They removed my tumor, femur and entire knee. Then I had chemotherapy again, for eight months. It was a total of 11 months for all of the treatment. It wasn’t until March 17, 2017, that I took steps without assistance from a walker or cane. (Komai has an endoprosthesis that replaced her femur, knee and part of the tibia.)
You were young and going through a very difficult time. Tell us about your support system.
My dad was “my person.” He has his own business so he was able to take me to all of my appointments. My mom and dad alternated staying with me overnight at the hospital. And my sister and stepmom also pitched in.
Pediatric oncology nurse Molly Lambert Pediatric oncology nurse Molly Thornock, R.N., B.S.N., encouraged and inspired Hannah Komai, a young City of Hope patient fighting osteosarcoma.
But at City of Hope, a nurse named Molly Thornock, R.N., B.S.N., went out of her way for me. She took the extra effort to get to know me and my family, and advocate for us. She’d come in and chat with me or we’d paint our nails together. We both loved the show Modern Family. Molly treated me like a friend and a sister, not a patient.
You’re now a nurse at City of Hope — obviously your patient experience there had an impact on you and your decision to become a nurse.
Absolutely, although it was more of a progression than a singular moment of realization. In addition to Molly, there were other nurses who helped form my desire to become a nurse. I thought, I can do this, I think I have something to offer. And my goal from the get-go was to work at City of Hope. I had decided that even before finishing treatment.
So what was your path to becoming a nurse?
When I finished treatment I took a year off to recover and I volunteered at City of Hope. I wanted to have a schedule. Then I began taking prerequisite courses for entry to nursing school. In 2013, I was admitted to the nursing program at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles. In 2015, I got a job as a nurse’s assistant at City of Hope, and in August 2017, I became an R.N. here.
You had planned to be in the medical field, as a physical therapist — why switch to nursing?
Being at the bedside with patients, day in and day out, and being with them at the most difficult times, is rewarding. Nurses are really there all of the time, they take care of the patients and the family. I felt like becoming a nurse would give purpose to my experience and touch the lives of other people.
Are you happy with your decision?
I love it! I love hanging with the nurses and the patients and talking to patients who are having a hard time and telling them, I’ve laid in the very room you are in and I get it. It offers insight and hope for them. And Molly and I work together on the same unit!
How is your health these days?
Currently, I have a few late effects from chemo, cardiomyopathy being the main one. And I may have fertility issues. But I am cancer-free! The five-year mark is the golden year, and I’m there! I’ll take it for what it is and keep moving forward.

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