Hannah Griffiths of Mountain Top, Pa., received the 2020 Outstanding Adult Learner Award for Wilkes University. The award is presented by the Luzerne County Council on Adult Higher Education.
Griffiths began her college career at Wilkes in 2015. Midway through her junior year, she received a devastating diagnosis: she was battling stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Despite intensive treatments, Griffiths graduated in May 2020 with a 3.5 grade point average and a bachelor of science degree in nursing. Her own health challenges have inspired her to help others.
Following her diagnosis, Griffiths started six months of chemotherapy in Jan. 2018, causing her to miss the second semester of her junior year. Though she was back on campus that fall, she received news that she needed more treatment.
“I got a call from my doctor. I’ll never forget it because it was Halloween and I was in the (E.S. Farley) library. As soon as I saw the number, I knew it wasn’t good.”
Griffiths’ case was presented to the Tumor Board at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia where she was being treated. The tumor board collaborates to reach a consensus on approaches to treatment and care for patients. In this case, they recommended a stem cell transplant followed by a new chemotherapy regimen.
“My first question was, ‘can I still go to school?’ They didn’t like the idea, but I wouldn’t take no for answer,” she says. “I absolutely refused to fall back another year.”
A few months later, Griffiths spent more than two weeks in the hospital for a stem cell transplant and additional chemotherapy. And she never fell behind, something she credits to the faculty in the Passan School of Nursing.
“My professors were so willing to help me. They would call me, they would check in. They arranged it so I could participate online. They let me work ahead on papers when I knew there was going to be a time that I wouldn’t feel well due to the chemo.”
Griffiths came back to school just two weeks after leaving the hospital. Though she missed her clinical experiences, a key hands-on component in the Passan School of Nursing, she made them up during the summer, while receiving daily radiation treatments in Philadelphia.
“I would wake up at 5 a.m., go to clinicals, and drive to Penn for evening radiation. I would usually arrive at 8 p.m. but sometimes there was a two- or three-hour wait. Many days, I didn’t get home until after midnight. The next day, I would start the process all over again.”
Susan Malkemes, chair and associate professor of undergraduate nursing programs, wrote Griffiths’ nomination letter on behalf of the faculty in the Passan School of Nursing. Malkemes noted that, despite her diagnosis, Griffiths remained active on campus and in her community. She volunteered during the University’s dedicated day of community service, The Big Event, and at local flu clinics. Most notably, “she has openly shared her experience with nursing students. The dialogue provided the students with a greater sensitivity from a lived-patient perspective.”
Griffiths recently accepted a position at Moses Taylor Hospital, Scranton, Pa., in the mom and baby unit. Most importantly, she has been in remission for 14 months.
“My own experience made me appreciate my nurses so much more. It made me more compassionate, more selfless. I just hope to deliver half the level of care that my nurses provided to me.”
And why the mom and baby unit? Griffiths completed her senior practicum in the labor and delivery unit at Commonwealth General Hospital and realized it is her passion.
“It never gets old to see a baby being brought into the world. You get to make a real difference in someone’s life. You’re part of a family’s biggest moment,” she says. “I want someone to remember that. I want someone to remember my name. I want to make an impact. That is the ultimate goal.”
“And I just really love babies,” she concludes with a laugh.