Cristina Rivera has 3 reasons to be proud.
Her children — who all decided to become nurses like their mother.
Rivera is an assistant nurse manager in the Intensive Care Unit at the Kaiser Permanente Fremont Hospital and a Kaiser Permanente employee for 20 years.
The first in her family to attend college, Rivera originally planned to be a physician. But her mother-in-law, a Newborn Intensive Care Unit nurse, encouraged her to try her field.
“I ended up loving it,” Rivera said of her now more than 2 decades as a nurse. “I didn’t think I would love it as much as I do.”
That passion for her profession only deepened in 2016 when Rivera was diagnosed with breast cancer and other nurses cared for her.
But she was not the only one affected by the experience. Her children were touched, too.
A family affair
“My oldest son was a college student when I first learned my diagnosis,” Rivera said. “He wanted to quit school and come home to be with me. I told him the best thing you can do for me is to graduate.”
Christopher Rivera did — completing his degree in neuroscience physiology at the University of California, San Diego, and then earning an advanced degree in nursing from Samuel Merritt University.
“He told me, ‘I want to make sure that if anything ever happens to you, I can take care of you,’” Rivera said.
After serving as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, Christopher was a nurse at VA Palo Alto Health Care before switching to nursing in the ICU at Washington Hospital in Fremont.
Cristina Rivera’s younger children, Catherine, 20, and Charles, 17, were at home and only 14 and 11 during Rivera’s illness. Nonetheless, they had a hand in helping her, from cutting her hair before her chemotherapy to caring for her during the side effects of treatment.
During this time, Rivera’s Fremont colleagues stepped up, too. They visited her at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, where Rivera was on the other side of nursing and “really touched” when her nurses got to know her.
Last February, Rivera got the all clear that she is cancer-free.
Today, Catherine is in her second year as a nursing student at the University of San Francisco. She intends to work in an ICU, too. Charles heads off to study nursing at U.S.F. this fall. In his college application letter, he wrote about being there for his mother during her illness. During the pandemic years of high school, Charles started a mental health support group for his classmates.
“I am in awe all of them,” Rivera said of her children. “And now their future is doing for others what they did for me.”