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A Leukemia Survivor Returns the Care He Received

Not long after his orientation at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), nurse Trey Thompson remembers sitting at the bedside of a patient.

"I’ll never forget it," Trey says. "We were discharging them, but I could sense something was wrong. So I asked if they had any concerns. They shared that they were scared and didn’t feel ready to leave the hospital. They were afraid of the changes that come after a transplant."

Trey, who works in the blood and marrow transplant unit at HCI, addressed the patient’s concerns one by one. "They realized they could do it—that if they followed these steps they were going to be okay," Trey recalls.

"I didn’t realize what a difference our conversation made until they were about to leave and the patient and his wife wanted to give me a hug," he adds.

Trey says he sees that moment as one way to reciprocate for the care he received before becoming a nurse. Back when he was 19, Trey was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a blood cancer that affects the immune system. He was living in California, had just graduated high school, and was preparing to go on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

trey and small child

"I experienced the no man’s land of young adults and cancer," Trey says. "You can either be treated by an adult oncologist and be on the younger side of their patients or go to a pediatrician and feel out of place."

When Trey’s symptoms began, he thought he had the flu. He had a hard time catching his breath during exercise and his lymph nodes were swollen. When he finally saw a specialist, she immediately admitted him to the hospital. "The lymph nodes near my neck were the size of baseballs," he says, "and the lymph nodes in my chest were the size of softballs. They said that if I hadn’t started treatment when I did, I may not have made it."

Because of treatment complications, Trey did not have a bone marrow transplant. Instead, he underwent nearly three years of chemotherapy. During treatment he took solace in visiting the ocean, surfing when he could, and going to school for a field that was close to his heart.

trey surfing

"I always had the idea of becoming a nurse in the back of my mind," Trey says, "and when I was diagnosed and got to know my nurses—and saw how they made my experience so much better and more bearable—I decided to go into nursing."

A year after Trey was declared cancer free, he went on his long-awaited mission. There, he met the woman he would marry. He and his wife, Alyssa, now have a two-year-old daughter and a five-month-old son.

"I was grateful my doctor and I had a conversation about fertility," Trey says. "You hear that if you have chemo, you won’t be able to have kids any more, but that’s not always the case. My nurses and doctor understood that the approach for young adults with cancer needs to be different. I felt more positive throughout my treatment because we talked about fertility, scholarship options, and programs that provide healing after treatment."

"I saw how much it helped me and I want to try to be that nurse for others," Trey adds. "I try to make sure they’re not just getting their medications, but that all of their needs are met."