Patient’s mother gives back to Dana-Farber patients through nursing

In 2019, Stephanie’s world was turned upside down her son Declan was diagnosed with a brain tumor and began treatment at Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic. Stephanie, a trained nurse, soon came to Dana-Farber to work in oncology nursing and pay forward everything that had been done for her and her family. This Nurses Week, we’re grateful to be able to share her story.

When Stephanie Vail’s 3-year-old son Declan was diagnosed with a brain tumor, she decided to leave her nursing job of eight years to join Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Nursing and Patient Care Services team. “Being part of the team at Dana-Farber is my true calling. There are many paths I could have taken, but being able to help prevent, treat, and cure cancer really fills my cup,” she reflects. “I get to go home knowing that I did all that I could to give people the best chance at enjoying their life, or their time left with us.”

Declan had been a healthy, happy baby. When he was 3, Stephanie noticed he would sometimes stare off into space, make some noises, and hold his belly. “It was very hard to assess a 3-year-old, because they don’t know how to describe symptoms or feelings very well,” she recalls.  After a series of appointments, tests, and an MRI, it was official: Declan had a brain tumor. He underwent 18 months of chemotherapy, three brain surgeries, two craniotomies, and a laser ablation surgery to control his seizures.

“It is so hard as a parent and a nurse to know the possibility of what could happen to him. You know the worst-case scenarios. You know possible side effects. There are days I wish it was me instead of him. But the most important thing I’d say to anyone facing a diagnosis would be to find a support system. Don’t be hard on yourself, and let yourself have bad days. Mental health is half the battle,” she says.

“My favorite part of my job here at Dana-Farber is the patients,” Stephanie continues. “They deserve the best possible, patient-centered care and I am confident I can provide that for them. These patients all have their own story to tell, and I love being part of their story and their journey. Gaining their respect and trust comes easily to me, and I think it’s because I have been on the other side with my son and other members of my family. I know what it’s like to have the worst possible day of your life at Dana-Farber, and it was staff who have helped me through those times. To know I can be that person for someone else really hits home for me.”

We are grateful today and every day for the incredible nurses at Dana-Farber. Thank you for taking the best possible care of our patients and their loved ones, and for supporting our mission to defy cancer.

Help support caregivers like Stephanie by joining The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign and how you can get involved at