A Mother’s Nursing Career Inspires Her Daughters Path to Oncology

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Ana Van Der Wall, MD reflects on her mother’s influence on her choice to become a medical oncologist.

Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute (FCS) medical oncologist Dr. Ana Van Der Wall knew as a young child she wanted a career that would allow her to be independent and live her best life. Her mom, Tulia Gonzalez, helped pave the way for her to do that, and they have been together every step of the way.

After navigating through difficult times, Tulia sought her own path to independence. She enrolled in nursing school at Hillsborough Community College, excited about the prospect of a career that would enable her to do some good in the world.

While her daughter attended elementary school, Tulia earned her nursing degree from USF Tampa. Shebegan caring for oncology patients at Tampa General Hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center and, later, as a charge nurse at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Image Credit: Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute

Image Credit: Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute

Young Ana loved hearing her mom talk about different patients she cared for. “Some stories were funny, some were incredibly sad,” she recalls. Later, while attending medical school, she gained a closer look at oncology and the special relationships that develop between patients and their providers. She found the field, and especially the research behind it, to be “amazing” and chose it as her specialty.

Tulia eventually relocated to Florida’s Gulf Coast and took a job with Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Bradenton. She left for a time to complete additional training to become a nurse practitioner and soon returned to the clinic. “FCS scooped her right back up,” said Dr. Van Der Wall. “They knew her and knew how special she is.”

Dr. Van Der Wall says, “I am completely here because they loved my mom,” who was among the team members welcoming her as she walked into the FCS Bradenton Cancer Center for her first day on the job. “It was amazing to have my mom right there,” said Dr. Van Der Wall. “Not only as my mom, but as an experienced oncology nurse who is incredibly smart.”

“When you first graduate and become a doctor, it is a huge responsibility. It can be very intimidating,” she said.

Tulia was able to guide the young physician on how to think about the options that were available when making the best recommendations for her patients. Dr. Van Der Wall said, “She knew the patients. She has seen what happens to them during treatment, how they respond and the longer-term effects. It was great bouncing ideas off of her.”

Dr. Van Der Wall believes that nurses see things on a totally different level. “They are to be respected,” she says, “and they deserve so much love.”

Earlier this month, Tulia retired after thirty years of nursing, twenty of those spent with FCS. Her very full travel calendar has already taken her to New York City and Puerto Rico, with more destinations on tap for the coming months.

She will take a pause from the road this weekend, however, to host her entire family, including Dr. Van Der Wall and her nine-year-old son, at her home for Mother’s Day. With the extra time she now has, Tulia is glad to take on those duties so her daughter can relax and enjoy the day.

“She is so very loving and so strong all at the same time,” Dr. Van Der Wall says of her mom. And as they take time to celebrate Mother’s Day, she says they are sure to also share some “very beautiful tears” reflecting on their special bond and the path they have traveled together.

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