Abby Castleberry makes difference for cancer patients

Published 11:05 pm Friday, January 12, 2018

A young Greenville native is working to make a difference in the lives of those battling cancer.

Abby Castleberry has been working as an oncology nurse in the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Unit at the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham for two years now. You could say it was the perfect match for this 2012 Fort Dale Academy graduate.

“I was actually assigned to work in the BMT Unit my last semester of nursing school at UAB for my preceptorship and I loved the employees and patients so much, I stayed,” she explains.

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The hours are long, with Castleberry typically working three 12-hour shifts per week (the days vary) and one weekend a month.

Her work day starts bright and early at 6:30 a.m.

“I get my report from the night shift nurse that had my patients, and get my day started. This includes an assessment on each patient, charting, passing out medications, and going to rounds with the rest of the patient care team (the attending physician, nurse practitioners, pharmacists),” Castleberry explains.

“We usually average two to three patients per nurse since we are an intensive care unit. Depending on what is going on with my patient, I may have to take them to various tests throughout the hospital or be involved in various procedures. Hopefully, my day shift ends by 7 p.m. when I give report to the oncoming nurse and head home.”

And what is her biggest day-to-day challenge in the BMT Unit?

“Most days, my greatest challenge is just making sure my to-do list is completely checked off at the end of the day,” Castleberry says.

But it’s more than just ticking off those boxes for this young medical professional. It’s being there for people facing real crises.

“In the world of oncology, I have had to become familiar with seeing people during hardest time of their lives. Sometimes it is challenging to find the right things to say to someone, or when to say nothing at all, and just be a smiling face or a person to hug,” Castleberry explains, adding,

“You become not just a nurse, but a friend, comedian, therapist, and whatever else you need to be at the moment.”

The work definitely has its challenges, and it can take its toll on these caregivers. But the rewards, Castleberry says, far outweigh any negatives.

“The world of the BMT is a special place. We are not just a unit in a hospital; we are a family,” she stresses.

“Our patients spend a minimum of three weeks with us during their transplant process. So, by the time they leave, we know them well–from their dog to their grand kids.”

And there’s that special bell, located where you exit the unit.

“It’s a tradition for the patient to ring the bell on their way out. I have always thought of it as a ‘Victory Bell.’ You can always count on applause from other employees and families. You know, that sound never fails to make me smile, and remind me why I do what I do.”

And Castleberry is proud to play a part in some of the cancer research carried out at the hospital.

“Currently, I get to be involved in a few of the clinical trials that are being conducted at UAB. It is very exciting and hopefully could mean a lot for cancer treatment in the future,” she explains.

“Most recently I have been involved with the ‘Be The Match’ organization. Not only do they provide research for improving the bone marrow transplant process and outcomes, but most importantly, they provide a world-wide registry where people can register as potential donors for people in need of a bone marrow transplant. It is so exciting to get to be in the registry as well as care for patients that have benefited from this organization.”

The fight to find a cure for cancer is important not only to Castleberry, but to her mom, Gerri McGinnis, who helms the Butler County’s annual American Cancer Society Relay For Life event to raise monies for the ACS—with some of those monies raised annually by Relays here and across the country going to fund cancer research at UAB.

“Relay is my heart, my passion and consumes a major portion of my time,” says McGinnis.

“I am so proud of Abby and her accomplishments. To know that the money we raise for ACS during Relay for Life directly helps research in the oncology units at UAB where my daughter works, that is the bonus that makes my work with Relay worthwhile.”

In the future, Castleberry wants to get her Master’s in nursing, with plans to become a nurse practitioner in a primary care setting for adults.

And the news that her hometown hospital is now in partnership with UAB?

“I was very excited when I heard this! I am biased, of course, but I think UAB is the best. I hope that this partnership will mean better health care options for Greenville,” Castleberry says.

“UAB is the largest employer in the state, so I hope that UAB coming to Greenville will not only open up new employment opportunities, but attract new providers and perhaps keep people in town for their health care needs.”

Castleberry describes UAB as “the best of the best,” definitely a place she wouldn’t mind continuing to work in the future.

“However, for me it will be more about where I can help the most people, so I plan to work wherever there is a need,” she says.

“Nursing has been something that, when I first began pursuing it, I never could have imagined what an impact it would have on my life.”

And the lives of others—every time that bell rings.