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Barnes Plans To Give Back Through Nursing

Transylvania Times July 26, 2017

By the time Rhiannon Barnes graduated from Brevard High School in 2008, she had already dealt with more challenges than many people deal with in a lifetime. During the summer of 2006, Rhiannon started experiencing symptoms that do not usually affect the typical 16-year-old.

Rhiannon Barnes and Glenda McCarson of Blue Ridge Community College

Rhiannon Barnes and Glenda McCarson of Blue Ridge Community College.

An athlete since middle school, Rhiannon knew that fainting spells, decreased appetite, fatigue and trouble breathing signaled that something was not right. Numerous doctors' appointments left her and her family without any logical explanations of why she was not feeling like herself.

In the first week of her junior year of high school, during a chemistry lecture, Rhiannon was fidgeting with her necklace when she felt swollen lymph nodes along her collarbone. Having had a fascination with medicine since she was a little girl, Rhiannon knew that swollen lymph nodes could be a sign of your body either fighting infection in a good way, or having trouble compensating for something that could be serious. After class that day, Rhiannon called her mother and they went to the doctor again. Little did Rhiannon know that this particular visit would change her life forever.

After a routine chest x-ray and blood cultures, the doctor admitted Rhiannon into Transylvania Regional Hospital for further testing. The chest X-ray revealed tumors in Rhiannon's chest. The doctors told her and her family that the tumors were compressing her pericardium, causing fluid to build up around her heart and lungs.

This was an emergency situation and Rhiannon was transferred immediately by ambulance to Mission Hospital where she was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. After surgery to drain the fluid around her heart, she remained in the ICU for 33 days. During this time, extensive testing revealed that Rhiannon had Stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

It was a very difficult and scary time for the 16-year-old and her family. The nurses that took care of her during her months of treatment knew this and nominated Rhiannon to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Her wish was granted, and in the summer of 2007, Rhiannon, her parents, and two younger siblings visited Maui, Hawaii. Through it all, Rhiannon stayed positive and constantly reminded herself that her situation could have been worse. She felt that once her treatment ended successfully, she would be able to lead a normal life. And she has.

Rhiannon will graduate from Nursing School at Blue Ridge Community College in May 2018 with an associate's degree in nursing. After taking and passing her state board exams, she will be a registered nurse. She already has an associate's degree in science which she received in 2010, and she intends to go to graduate school to become a nurse practitioner.

Rhiannon feels that having survived this very serious illness, she "has been blessed with a desire to help other people, especially children battling cancer."

"It is my calling to help others the way the nurses at Mission cared for me," she said. "I know exactly what it feels like to be an adolescent battling cancer and I want to give that unique perspective to this field of nursing."

Rhiannon received a 2016 scholarship from the Connestee Falls Student Scholarship Program, which she says has been a "huge help" to her. At age 27, she lives independently from her family. She works two part-time jobs, as a server at the Jordan Street Café and as a certified nursing assistant, all the while maintaining a very demanding course schedule. Without scholarship assistance from the Connestee Falls Student Scholarship Program and one other grant, Rhiannon feels it would be literally impossible to keep up with the rigorous demands of her very full and normal life.

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