From Leukemia to Living Out Her Dream

Julia Sampaio, senior nursing major at RIC

Care and empathy are traits that Julia Sampaio, a leukemia survivor, intends to use after she graduates with a nursing degree.

Ask Julia Sampaio what’s her favorite day of the year, and you’ll learn that it isn’t her birthday. October 25 is the day she celebrates the most – that was the day almost 19 years ago when doctors told her that she is cancer-free.

The 26-year-old Rhode Island College senior was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia one day after her fifth birthday.

“I had flu-like symptoms and initially my parents thought I had Lyme Disease,” Sampaio explains. “After they ran the blood work, we found out it was leukemia.”

After her diagnosis, Sampaio spent a fair amount of time in the hospital and that’s where she developed a deep bond with nurses.

“Nurses would sit and color with me in my coloring books,” she recalls. “I would see them more than I would the doctors. I felt like I was more than a patient to them. I felt like they were family members.”

Her encounters with nurses sparked the desire to become one, too.

"From the very beginning, nursing has always been my goal," she says. "I love talking to people, giving them a sense of comfort and connection."

Sampaio, who will graduate from the Zvart Onanian School of Nursing at RIC in December, says she has loved being a part of the nursing program from the start.

“Professors have gone out of their way to help me learn,” she says. “And if you’re not grasping a concept, they spend that extra time. The program also has many resources and plenty of opportunity for one-on-one interaction with smaller classes and clinical groups.”

Sampaio, the first in her family to aspire to a career in the medical field, cites Professor of Nursing Lisa Connelly as a particular inspiration.

“She’s a great leader and teacher who never stops learning,” Sampaio says. “When she’s asked a question, she never says, ‘I don’t know.’ She takes the time to find an answer, and that amazes me. I want to be the same way when I’m a nurse practitioner.”

Connelly described Sampaio as a kind, humble and caring student who has embraced opportunities in clinical nursing.

“Julia was able to easily connect with patients she cared for, and that is due in part to what she has experienced,” Connelly says. “She can relate to the vulnerability patients face, which gives her a greater sense of compassion and empathy for others.”

Julia Sampaio, RIC nursing senior and her beloved dog, Bella
Sampaio with her lab/pit bull mix, Bella

Although she’s now cancer-free, Sampaio has not forgotten about those who continue to battle cancer.

“I volunteer for the Make A Wish Foundation and the Izzy Room at Hasbro Children's Hospital – my way of giving back right now until I graduate as a nurse,” she says.

Sampaio hopes to land a position in the emergency room department at The Miriam Hospital after graduating and eventually make her way back to RIC in a few years to enter the college’s nurse practitioner program.

She’s says she’s optimistic that a cure for leukemia is forthcoming.

“It hurts me how much cancer impacts people,” she says. “I think in my lifetime there will be a cure. Treatments have gotten better with more people able to live normal lives with less chemo and radiation and more home care.”