New cancer center team member pours her heart into her work




LaShelle Tipton has worked for IU Health in different administrative roles and is accustomed to seeing sick adults, but it’s different with kids, she says. “Oh, my God, the babies.”

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

As a high school student at Arsenal Tech in Indianapolis, LaShelle Tipton listened when her guidance counselor suggested she consider a career in nursing. She dutifully began studying for a degree before deciding nursing wasn’t for her.

She went on to get a degree from the School of Informatics at IUPUI, but the healthcare field found her after all.

Tipton, who also earned an MBA, is the new director of the cancer service line at Riley Hospital for Children. She’s been in leadership positions throughout IU Health over the past 13 years, most recently with the IU Department of Pathology as associate vice chair of Clinical and Academic Administration.

But this is her first time working on behalf of sick kids, as part of Riley’s Hematology and Oncology team. During a tour of the clinic recently, she was struck by the young faces she saw.

Lashelle conversing at Riley Children's Health

“I’ve always worked with adults. You see adults sick all the time. It’s different when you see kids,” she said. “Oh, my God, the babies. One little girl I saw had on this sweet sweater and she was bald, and she had these Mickey Mouse ears that matched her sweater. My heart just dropped.”

When she asked the team of nurses and physicians on the floor how they handle taking care of sick children, they advised her to grow some tough skin. But they weren’t suggesting that she close her heart to the kids. Not by any means.

“Ultimately, you have to think about how we are all here to help these kids,” Tipton said. “It can be sad, but we’re here to help them get better. And the majority of our patients do get better.”

Riley’s cancer program is ranked 22nd in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings.

As director of the cancer service line, Tipton’s job is to work with physicians and other team members to expand Riley’s reach around the state and the country, improve the patient experience and climb higher in the national rankings. She’s excited to get going.

“I like to build things,” she said. “Everyone I have met here is so engaged and wants to take such good care of the kids. They are so on fire and dedicated to the best care.”

To the team, she says, “I love you for what y’all are doing. You do amazing work.”

Moving over to the Cancer Center represents a challenge for Tipton, but she embraces it. She’s also glad to be working closer to, if not closer with, patients.

“Everything I had done previously had been patient-facing, and in pathology, it was more about specimens,” she said. “Even though I am an administrator, I missed those stories, I missed meeting patients. When I decided to look for something more clinical and heard about this position, people asked, ‘Do you like kids?’”

Her answer was simple. “I love kids. Sign me up!”

Family photo with Tipton

Tipton, mother of a 13-year-old son, was supposed to be married over the summer, but the coronavirus upended those plans. She and her fiancé are not in a rush to reschedule at this point.

“We just want everybody to stay healthy, so let’s see what happens with COVID. I’m not OK with putting our family members and friends at risk.”

To keep busy and maintain her health this year, she’s been running, painting and reading.

Tipton takes a selfie while out on a run

“I’m a part of Black Girls Run, a group that was started because the African-American community is so disproportionately affected by co-morbidities like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol,” she said. “We encourage Black women to get up and move.”

The pandemic restricted group runs around the city, but this month, her favorite run returns to the pavement. It’s called Morning Glory, and it steps off every Sunday morning on the Northside.

She’s completed several half marathons, but don’t ask her to sign up for a full marathon or a triathlon.

“Marathons are not part of my ministry,” she says with a laugh. “And a triathlon sounds like torture.”

She doesn’t consider herself a painter – “I play with paint” – but she has gotten out the brush more this year to satisfy her creative side.

“I make the biggest messes,” she laughed. “I have acrylics all over my house. “A lot of it is abstract, but this year, it’s been mostly trees and flowers.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,