Taylor Culley, child life specialist at The Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department at CHOC, brings unique experience to her role.
Born and raised in Orange County, Taylor’s mom rushed her to CHOC when they discovered a mass on her neck. At age 13, Taylor was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2005.
Soon, Taylor began treatment at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC. Her 12-day inpatient stay at CHOC Hospital in Orange, 11 months of chemotherapy and years of routine appointments gave Taylor the inspiration to pursue a career in healthcare.
Reflecting on her cancer treatment at CHOC, Taylor remembers the challenging moments like losing her hair and being isolated from her friends. She spent Halloween at the hospital and was disappointed to miss out on trick-or-treating with friends; she also had to miss eighth grade activities, trips and graduation.
But there were positive memories too. Taylor says her nurses at CHOC were memorable, with one nurse gifting her an angel figurine on her first night— it was, and continues to be one of her most prized possessions. Taylor also attended events for teens with cancer and made friends; she even got the chance to interview celebrities at a music festival.
Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis leads to future child life career
Taylor’s child life specialist during treatment, Christy Campo, made an especially big impact on her.
“I remember Taylor being friendly and easy to talk to,” says Christy, who is still at CHOC and now serves as clinical educator for the child life department. “I enjoyed just sitting and chatting with her and her mom. Even though we had some tough conversations, and she had a lot of hard days, I mostly remember laughing together. She impressed me with her bravery and openness. To show the staff kindness and love when she herself was facing so much is a special quality.”
Taylor’s connection with Christy inspired her to narrow down her broader healthcare career aspirations to one goal: becoming a child life specialist.
“One of the reasons I decided to pursue healthcare was because I wanted to help people who are going through difficult times,” says Taylor. “The hospital can be a scary place for patients and families, so I wanted to make a positive impact.”
A child life specialist strives to normalize the hospital environment for patients and families. They come alongside patients and families to make things like medical equipment, procedures and diagnoses feel less strange and frightening. That way, patients and families can focus on what’s most important: feeling better.
Friends and colleagues at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC
After obtaining her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in child life, Taylor got a job as a child life specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, Calif. Six months later, Taylor transferred to CHOC — right where she always knew she wanted to end up.
“CHOC has created a great culture. The providers and staff are so friendly, and they really care about their patients. They work as a true team, putting children first and making them feel empowered,” says Taylor.
As a child life specialist that floats to different departments, Taylor has been excited work with many members of her own oncology care team like Dana Moran, assistant nurse manager; Mary English, nurse practitioner; Dr. Ivan Kirov, CHOC specialist and medical director; and Dr. Lilibeth Torno, CHOC specialist and clinical director.
Because of her experience with childhood cancer, Taylor feels especially connected with patients treated in the hematology and oncology unit at CHOC. She feels like she’s an excellent advocate for these patients and families because she knows firsthand how they are feeling. They might need some extra pain management help and comfort, says Taylor.
“I am thrilled Taylor is now at CHOC and that we work in the same department.” says Christy. “It is an honor to have someone as passionate and dedicated as Taylor on our team. She understands what our patients are facing in a way that most of us don’t.”
Easing patients’ fears
To Taylor, the most rewarding moments of her role include helping patients overcome their fears and seeing that sense of relief after a painful or scary part of their treatment. She hopes to make hard experiences like surgeries, hospital stays and treatments easier and brighter in some way for patients.
“I love being able to help patients realize that they are braver than they think they are,” Taylor says.
Looking ahead, Taylor is excited to continue growing as a child life specialist and settling into a unit at CHOC. Personally, her and her husband look forward to starting a family and buying a home together.