Recent graduate Leah George knows how to bury the lede. From the comfort of her family room at her home near Bass Lake, we chatted about Leah’s internship at the VA Durham Hospital, her parents’ immigration from India to New Hampsire when she was 1 year old, her desire to become a nurse practitioner in oncology, and her four years at Holly Springs High School.
More than 20 minutes in, she dropped the bomb — at the age of 5, Leah was diagnosed with cancer in her kidney, underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, multiple blood transfusions, countless hospital stays, and missed nearly four years of school.
“Now I have one kidney, and one really cool scar,” Leah says with a laugh.
“Being so young, you don’t remember half of it. My parents had to carry a lot of grief for me,” she says.
But a few memories rise to the surface.
“I remember I had one nurse who would take my vitals every day. … Since my parents weren’t always able to be there, she was always so amazing to have someone to talk to. I thought she was so fascinating, and I loved her. I remember her simple hello was everything,” Leah recalls.
Shortly after Leah’s clean bill of health, the family moved to Holly Springs. A couple years later, they received news that Leah’s treasured nurse had passed away from a similar form of cancer.
“I kept getting memories of her after my mom had mentioned it. It made me want to work in that area to honor people like that, who had given their entire life, who had woken up and chosen every day to come to work with a smile.”
Leah’s mom, Sincy Liju, is also a nurse, working at the VA Durham Health Care system as a floor manager, giving Leah further insight into the profession.
“Now that nursing is an opportunity for me, she opens up to me more about nursing and her stories. I have so much respect for her and all nurses,” Leah says.
Last summer, Leah, along with only 10 other finalists, earned an internship at VA Durham, affording her the opportunity to shadow nurses and doctors in the chronic pain clinic.
“It made me realize how important nurses are to the overall environment of the hospital. They are like the mothers of the facility,” she says. “Nurses work so hard every day. They are so incredibly important to everyone. My respect for nursing grew exponentially after watching them.”
Leah will attend UNC Charlotte in the fall, where she plans to study to become a nurse practitioner, with the goal of working in a children’s hospital.
However, she’s not leaving town without making a mark at Holly Springs High School.
“I wanted to create my own club before I left high school to leave a small impact story. I made Music Appreciation Club — a place you come, chill out, and listen to music. It’s a fun club,” she says. Leah’s number-one rule? No bullying. All styles of music are encouraged, and participants of all grades and tastes are welcome.
Leah also served as president of the HSHS chapter of Girl Up Club, an outreach program of the United Nations that encourages leadership development and social change among adolescent girls.
“It is so important to me that I have a voice,” says Leah. “My family is really religious. So political ideals for a lot of our friends lie with their religious values. It was really important to me that I was educated on all boundaries before I made a decision to give my final input on something. Being part of Girl Up since freshman year has made me a lot more aware of issues that go on in our society and made me research them.”
During Women’s History Month, the club made daily announcements to the student body highlighting female activists around the world.
“I wanted (the announcements) to be impactful and relevant to current news,” says Leah, who included modern-day leaders, such as Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalia, Mental Health America Executive Director Kathy Rogers, and Gambian entrepreneur and environmentalist Isatou Cessay.
“It’s really important for me to be able to speak out about things I am passionate about,” she says.
“Staying true to your identity is really important.”
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- Friday Night Lights
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- Nonprofit Spotlight: DEGA Mobile Veterinary Care
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- Standout Students: Holden Bierman
- Standout Students: Leah George
- Meet & Greet: Taylor McGee
- See & Do: June to July 2023