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Healthy Balance

Family’s Cancer Battle Inspires Teen to Study Nursing

A little brother battling childhood cancer

Darcy Alimenti spent much of her teen years watching her mother and brother fight cancer.

Nursing student volunteer Darcy Alimenti with a UVA emergency room visitor.
Darcy Alimenti (left) helps a visitor during her volunteer shift in UVA's emergency room.

First, her older brother was diagnosed with leukemia during her freshman year of high school.

She visited him when he stayed overnight at UVA Children’s Hospital, accompanied him on clinic visits, watched him get spinal taps and learned to change his dressings at home.

While he was still undergoing treatment, her mother developed leiomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer.

A Passion for Nursing

While Alimenti’s brother was getting cancer treatment, a nurse mentioned UVA's junior volunteer summer program. Alimenti signed up.

Junior volunteers work in UVA’s gift shop, escort guests to their destinations, deliver flowers and mail and ensure patients are comfortable. They’re required to volunteer weekly, but Alimenti went in twice a week, eventually racking up 350 hours over three summers.

“I absolutely loved it,” she recalls. “I loved being with patients, being able to give back to this hospital that had been keeping my brother alive.”

She realized she enjoyed interacting with patients more than anything.

“I definitely developed this passion for nursing.”

Standout Applicant

UVA Cancer Center volunteer Sara Templeman worked with Alimenti once and was impressed. “Darcy just knew the whole thing,” she says. “She saw what was needed and would take care of it without any direction. She was also very good with the patients, stopping to talk with them.”

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Templeman is a member of the Hospital Auxiliary, a group of employees and volunteers. The auxiliary awards its annual Dawson Junior Volunteer Scholarship to an exceptional junior volunteer who has been accepted or is enrolled in a health care degree program.

During the 2009-2010 school year, Alimenti’s senior year at Monticello High School, she was accepted into the UVA School of Nursing and applied for the scholarship.

Her many hours of hospital volunteering stood out, but so did her high grades and contributions to other organizations. Alimenti also volunteered for the American Red Cross and at a local family health provider and helped organize fundraisers for cancer research.

The long list of accomplishments made Alimenti the obvious choice for the $2,500 scholarship.

More surprising, though, is that she got it again in 2011, after continuing her hospital volunteer work and being named to UVA’s Dean’s List.

“It’s certainly unusual to give the scholarship two years in a row, but Darcy really stood out,” Templeman says. “She’s volunteered all over the hospital, practically every area you can think of. She’s done it all cheerfully and with a smile on her face.”

Alimenti now volunteers weekly through Madison House, UVA’s student volunteer organization. She’s currently volunteering in the emergency room, helping patients and their families. That work is more stressful, she says, but she’s never forgotten how it felt to be there with a patient.

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