Health care heroes of pediatric oncology: Always caring, always learning

Every September, we are honored to share the courageous stories of our pediatric cancer patients during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This September, we’d also like to spotlight the health care heroes who display their expertise and compassion as they care for these children every day. Michelle Blanton, R.N., and Priscilla Milanes, R.N., both of Unit 42 pediatric oncology/hematology at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, are just two of those heroes.

Priscilla Milanes, R.N., and Michelle Blanton, R.N., of Unit 42 pediatric oncology/hematology at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital

“It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love.”

Michelle Blanton, R.N.

“I knew from a young age I wanted to be a nurse,” shared Blanton. “I started out as a general pediatric nurse, never imagining caring for kids with cancer. But when oncology patients were placed on the unit I worked on, I was required to become chemo certified.”

“Caring for these patients, as well as their families, for the duration of their treatment gives you the opportunity to develop bonds with them. You can actually see the difference you make. They start to feel as if we are family,” she said.

When asked what she finds most rewarding about her work, Blanton spoke about the spirit of her patients.

“I love seeing these heroes kick cancer’s butt and going on to live happy, healthy lives, starting their own families and overcoming the toughest fight of their life,” she said.

Like Michelle, Priscilla Milanes, R.N., knew that nursing was her calling from an early age. The care her father received while undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer left such an impression on Priscilla, that she decided she wanted to work with cancer patients as well. This determination, combined with her love for children, brought her to a nursing career focused on pediatric oncology.

As part of the Unit 42 staff since its opening in 2010, Blanton has seen many advances which necessitate ongoing education and training. She and Milanes have come to rely on continuing education to keep them up-to-date on everything from treatment techniques and care protocols to time management and mitigating burnout. These nurses know that continuing education is essential for delivering top-notch pediatric cancer patient care.

“I have studied compassion, as it relates to death and dying, and burn out,” Blanton said. “It helps to keep things in perspective, knowing you can be compassionate and caring, without completely giving pieces of yourself away.”

Meanwhile, Milanes is taking advantage of continuing education opportunities outside of the unit. “I look forward to attending the upcoming Florida Association of Pediatric Tumor Programs conference, as I’ve heard that it’s informative about current and innovative treatment options,” she shared.

The nurses of Unit 42 are able to maintain this up-to-date level of continuing education in part because of the UF Health Pediatric Nursing Ongoing Education Fund, which helps cover the cost of webinar registrations, attending and presenting at conferences, and more. Visit if you’d like to learn more about the fund or donate.

Thank you to all of the health care heroes like Michelle and Priscilla who provide exceptional care for our pediatric cancer patients each day. As a thank you, we hope you’ll join us in supporting continuing education for our UF Health pediatric nurses. Thank you to Dr. Salil Gupta, who is matching the first $500 in donations!