Dr. Jennifer Arnold talks about returning to work after cancer treatments

February 11, 2014


21214arnoldcollage640As director of Texas Children’s Simulation Center and a neonatologist at Texas Children’s Newborn Center, Dr. Jennifer Arnold is a respected health care professional. But she’s no stranger to the patient side of health care, having dealt with complications from dwarfism throughout her life.

Last year, Arnold became pregnant, and the pregnancy turned into a rare but aggressive type of cancer of the uterus. In September, Arnold was diagnosed with stage 3 choriocarcinoma. The diagnosis suddenly sent her back into the world of receiving care, rather than giving it.

“I have a unique perspective in that I’ve been a patient so many times before,” Arnold said. “But having cancer leads to a little more trepidation and uncertainty. I was in that rare position of being vulnerable and knowing all the things that can go wrong.”

Due to her short stature, Arnold’s case made it somewhat challenging for doctors to determine the correct chemotherapy dosage. Her small airway meant further complications, all of which may have been tough for an adult hospital to manage. Because of her special circumstances, Texas Children’s Physician-in-Chief Dr. Mark W. Kline decided that although Arnold is an adult, Texas Children’s should take her case.

Dr. Diaz-Arrastia of Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women and Dr. Chintagumpala from Texas Children’s Cancer Center teamed up to develop a plan that included chemotherapy and removing the primary tumor. They researched intensely to find the proper dosage and ensured there was always someone on-call who could manage Arnold’s airway. Texas Children’s Drs. Nancy Glass, Jodi Muscal, David Poplack and Kim-Phuong Thi Nguyen also played key roles in her care.

“I felt so much better than I would have at an adult hospital, because I’m a different circumstance,” Arnold said. “If I wasn’t at Texas Children’s I would have been 10 times more scared. But I know the doctors and nurses here, and I know how much they care. They were so on top of things, and I’m very appreciative of how everyone came together to help.”

The perk of being surrounded not only by family and friends, but by her work family, too, delighted Arnold. Colleagues came to visit her during treatment, dropping by to show support, and even had meetings during Arnold’s hospitalization to keep her updated on projects in the Simulation and Newborn Centers.

“I’m so blessed to have a lot of friends and colleagues at the hospital,” Arnold said. “It made me feel more connected to my life.”

Arnold also notes that it was the support of her husband, Bill, two adopted children, Will, and Zoey, and her parents, who helped keep her smiling and energized during her treatment. With six rounds of chemotherapy and the surgery behind her, Arnold is rejoicing in the news that her cancer has gone into remission. She is beginning to regain her stamina and looking forward to coming back to work in early March.

“Taking care of babies is the most physically exhausting part of my job, and I can’t wait until I’m ready for that again in a few weeks,” she said. “There are so many exciting projects that we were in the middle of when I got the diagnosis, and I’m really eager to pick up where I left off. Overall though, I’m just definitely looking forward to getting back to normal life.”