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September 15, 2020

Her nursing career is an extension of her life of empathy for others

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Her nursing career is an extension of her life of empathy for others

Melyssa Sams started her career later in life but she’s always been headed toward nursing as she cared for others.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

The way Melyssa Sams looks at it is this: “When you’re the oldest of five, you have to be a leader. You’re kind of a mom from the start.”

At 45, Sams serves as the clinical oncology coordinator at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. She started her career as new nurse on the bone marrow transplant unit at IU Health, then worked as a travel nurse throughout the state, and eventually took a travel assignment at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. After two contracts, she came on as a permanent employee working in oncology/hematology.

Having lived in Virginia for a time, IU Health was a little like coming back home. She is a native of Chicago’s south side. A graduate of Thornton Township High School, Sams was an honor student considering a career in art.

“I became a mother at a young age and went on to cosmetology school. The hours didn’t work when my kids were young so I became a nursing assistant,” said Sams, the mother of two girls ages 26 and 24, and two sons ages 21 and 25. She also has two grandchildren. One of her children has special needs.

“I’ve been a caregiver for my siblings, I’ve been a single mom off and on throughout my life, and I’ve also been a foster mom to three kids. I worked in nursing homes and home healthcare for 10 years. I know what it’s like to care for others,” said Sams. “Nursing made sense to me. It was a great career to support my family and God gave me the gift of empathy for others.” She was 39 when she started nursing school, earned her LPN in 2014 and her RN a year later.

“I’m a very determined and stubborn lady. I don’t give up. If I set a goal I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve it, said Sams. “I’d like to instill in my kids the importance of staying close and having open communication with each other, to put themselves first and take care of others as well. The best thing about my job working with patients who have been diagnosed with lymphoma, leukemia, sickle cell and other hematology disorders, is to help them navigate that diagnosis. That is so rewarding,” said Sams.

To unwind, Sams performs Latin Fusion dance with the Alexander Coleman Dance Company. She recently joined the company in a partnership with La Voz de Indiana to produce a film, “Women in Black (WIB): The Invasion,” with a local premiere on September 4.

“I look at dance as my art,” said Sams. “It’s been exciting to be a mom and full-time nurse at the age of 45 and to be able to dance.”

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