HOUSTON - Fifteen years ago, Patsy Villanueva was on her way to becoming a teacher. With an associates degree in education in hand, she had enrolled at the University of Houston to earn her bachelor's degree. Then, fate stepped in to guide her toward her true calling -- to be a nurse.
Villanueva's daughter, Victoria, was 5 years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia. The diagnosis put Victoria in Texas Children's Hospital for a full year of treatment.
Villanueva was by her daughter's side through the treatment. She lived with her daughter at the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
During that year, Villanueva was her daughter's rock. She took on the burden of worry for Victoria as she fought for her life.
She repeated one simple rule to her daughter: "Nobody worries until I worry. I will tell you when it's time to worry. And the doctors have a plan on what to do."
That became her mantra. It worked. Victoria found comfort in knowing that her mom and the doctors were taking care of her. For the entire hospital stay, Villanueva held strong.
"I never told her it was time to worry," Villanueva said. "There were lots of times that we really needed to be worried. I was very worried. She never knew it."
The medical staff at the hospital watched Villanueva manage her daughter's care. They saw something special in her: an innate ability to know what her daughter needed and a strength to keep her buoyed during the tough times.
According to Villanueva, "As time went on that year, they started saying, 'You're really not a teacher, you're a nurse.'"
It took some time to convince her, but in the end, Villanueva knew that she was redirected in life.
"Before I knew it, I found myself in nursing school," she said.
In the end, Victoria survived. She is now a student at Iowa State University and thinking about a career in medicine. Villanueva is taking the skills she discovered while treating her daughter and applying them to a new generation of patients.
"I tell them, 'You are like my baby. You don't worry until I worry, and I'll let you know when it's time to worry,'" Villanueva said.
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