Posted on Dec 16, 2020

Balancing Grief With Gratitude

Balancing Grief With Gratitude

For most of her life, recent Bull Nurse grad and PhD student Jaelyn Brown, BSN ‘20, has watched her mom, Juliet Brown, fight some form of cancer. 

Whether it was brain tumors, breast cancer, or sarcoma in her mom’s leg and lungs, they all took their toll. Radiation and chemotherapy, yearly brain scans, breast surgery, and hospital stays for cancer-related treatments were the norms throughout Jaelyn’s school-aged years. 

Her mom, 55, died at the end of April, a week before Jaelyn graduated with bachelor’s degrees in nursing and health sciences from USF. Despite the back-to-back grief — Jaelyn’s paternal grandmother died in December 2019 from kidney failure — the 22-year-old continues her nursing studies in the PhD nursing science program at her alma mater. 

She says she wrestled with whether to take a break from school, but ultimately decided that nursing research is the next chapter in her nursing journey. 

“My mom knew I was going into the PhD program, and she would always tell me, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ I know that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.” 


It’s no surprise that since age 4, Jaelyn has wanted to be a nurse. Each year she dressed up as a nurse for Halloween. One year she decided to go as Tinker Bell but went back to scrubs the next year.  

She says watching her mom go through her first brain surgery to remove a tumor  while she didn’t understand everything that was going on at the time — was an indelible moment. 

I remember how well the nurses treated her and them being there for her,” she said, adding that she was either 4 or 5 years old at the time. “It brightened up her day when they took care of her, so it made me want to do that. I could tell when my mom felt good and when people brought her joy. 

She hopes her story of struggle, grief, and triumph inspires others enduring hardships to keep going. 

Jaelyn said pursuing a PhD in nursing science was an unexpected turn, but she now sees it as a way to give back by improving the quality of life of patients who are battling cancer. 

She is also starting a foundation named after her mom to bring awareness to sarcoma, an uncommon group of cancers that begins in the bones. She hopes the foundation can offer a scholarship for children who have lost a loved one from cancer. 

“Those are going to be my ways to leave a legacy and honor my mom’s name. I want to help individuals who are still here with us battling, improving their lives. I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity.” 

Even after living through a traumatic spring and summer, Jaelyn remains grateful and hopeful.  

“The adversity that we face in our lives doesn’t define us,” she said. “It can come and sharpen us and push us forward toward our purpose. It doesn’t have to stop us from living and doing awesome things.” 

Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing