Our nurses on their calling to serve
Hope. It’s what drives everything we do here at MD Anderson. It’s what lifts us up and keeps us going, carrying us through even our toughest days. And it’s what we strive to give our cancer patients and their families, in ways big and small.
And while the COVID-19 pandemic brings unprecedented challenges and changes for all of us, hope remains. It’s what drives us and binds us. It’s what we crave, and it’s what we strive to bring to you.
Here are a few of the ways you can support people in the MD Anderson community during this time.
Recognize an employee
It’s a smile, a story, compassion, patience. It’s a listening ear, comfort or understanding when you call us or send a message through MyChart. It’s help, kindness and support through unchartered challenges.
Help us highlight stories of hope during COVID-19 by sharing your story of how a member of our team has given you hope and help during this time. After you complete our share your story form, we may reach out for more details to share your story online.
Your blood donation will help ensure an adequate blood supply for our patients during this critical time. Because COVID-19 is not a bloodborne disease, it is safe to donate blood during this time. There has been no evidence that COVID-19 could be transmitted or contracted through a blood donation or a blood transfusion.
All blood donations at MD Anderson Blood Donor Center locations are being held by appointment only.
Donate to the Caring Fund
Launched in 2011, the Caring Fund helps MD Anderson employees recover from disasters. Over the years, the fund has aided more than 1,000 employees through dollars generously donated by MD Anderson employees and private donors across the country.
The Caring Fund now has been expanded to help employees cover unexpected expenses (such as temporary housing, child care expenses or transportation) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Donate today.
Encourage others to stay at home
Our cancer patients are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19. To slow the coronavirus' spread, we must all do our part by practicing social distancing and staying home.
Remind others why it's vital to stay home by decorating our "stay home for cancer patients" coloring sheet. Then, post your art on social media for your friends and family to see, tagging MD Anderson. You can even hang your picture in your window.
Her thoughtfulness was so touching.
Share Your Story
Help us highlight stories of hope during COVID-19 by sharing how MD Anderson employees inspire you.
I'm not a superstar. I just keep going.
Stories of Hope
As we all face unprecedented changes and challenges brought by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, kindness matters more than ever. With social distancing and other proactive measures in place, MD Anderson employees have taken the initiative to find new and creative ways to show they care for our cancer patients, who are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19. Here are a few examples.
Kind words and healthy habits to slow the spread of coronavirus
Washing your hands often and properly is one of the most important things we can each do to protect against the novel coronavirus. To encourage good hand hygiene, MD Anderson’s Specialty Pharmacy sent a hand-signed letter and mini-bottle of hand sanitizer to all patients who received prescription deliveries in April.
After reading a Women’s Health article featuring an MD Anderson patient who specifically mentioned her fears about medicine supply chains being affected by the pandemic, Megan McGugan, Pharm.D., a manager in the Specialty Pharmacy, knew she wanted to do something special for the patients that depend on specialty medicines.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about her concerns,” McGugan says. “I thought if she was feeling this way, there’s no doubt other patients are feeling the same way. I knew we needed to do something to reassure our patients that we will be here for them through this challenging time.”
McGugan and team created a short letter to share best practices for hand hygiene and to remind patients that the Specialty Pharmacy team is available to answer any questions. All six members of the team signed each letter, which was accompanied by hand sanitizer left over from a previous project. The team mailed out about 700 letters total and received heartfelt thanks from many patients and caregivers.
Completing cancer treatment is a big deal. Frequently, it’s celebrated through a bell ringing ceremony with family and care team members. But things were a little different when my dad, Ken, finished radiation therapy at MD Anderson West Houston for his pancreatic cancer recently.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, neither my sister nor I could be with him during treatment. As an MD Anderson employee, I understand why MD Anderson has temporarily stopped allowing visitors to its campuses – it protects my dad, the other cancer patients and our care teams. Still, we would have loved to celebrate this milestone with him.
Thankfully, a very caring radiation therapist named Karrie Bellard helped mark the occasion in a particularly meaningful and personal way.
Immediate connection between runners
My dad wore a Houston marathon finisher T-shirt during the first of his five radiation treatments. He completed four marathons several years ago.
“Karrie noticed and told me she was a distance runner and we started sharing stories of grueling long-run training and the highs of finishing races,” my dad tells me. “Runners have common experiences that quickly create a bond.”
“We became instant friends,” says Karrie, who, in 2009, decided she needed to get active, and as a result lost 50 pounds and became an accomplished endurance athlete.
Their connection proved beneficial to my dad, who is a rectal cancer survivor and now also battles Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), which causes scarring of the lungs.
“Ken had a particularly long, tough treatment where he had to hold his breath, which is tough for someone on oxygen,” says Karrie. “He did what he needed to like a champ!”
My dad credits Karrie and fellow radiation therapist Lacy Perry with helping him get through the treatments. “They were so understanding and encouraging. The support helped even more because I had connected with Karrie on a personal level as a fellow runner. I considered her my ‘coach’ during the treatment, and she inspired me to push myself the same way you need to on a long run,” my dad says.
Meaningful gift from one finisher to another
My dad continued to wear a different race finisher T-shirt for each treatment. “On day three, I knew what I should do for him when he completed treatment,” says Karrie.
Each person who completes a major race receives a finisher medal. Karrie decided it was a fitting tribute to give to a fellow distance runner a finisher medal when he completed an especially tough treatment race. She selected one of hers – the 2020 Katy half marathon – and brought it with her to my dad’s final treatment.
“I may have been more excited to give it to him than I hoped he would be to receive it,” Karrie tells me. She wore one of her finisher T-shirts under her scrubs on his final day of treatment.
My dad was so touched, but tried to give it back. “It doesn’t matter if you have 200 finisher medals, every one of them reflects your training commitment and is significant, so I thought she should have it back. The gesture was enough for me,” he says.
But Karrie told him that he had done the hard work and finished, so he’d earned it.
She had many medals from which to choose. She has completed many marathons and in times fast enough to qualify several times for the Boston Marathon, which she has run twice. During her early efforts to get fit, she also biked. A friend suggested she add in swimming and to compete in triathlons. She did and her times were good enough that she qualified for the world championship. She competed in the Kona IRONMAN in 2016.
Committed to our cancer patients
Modest about her success, Karrie says: “I’m not a superstar, I just keep going.”
She says the training helps her manage stress, clear her mind and rejuvenate her to give her best to her patients every day. It’s something she has done since she joined MD Anderson in 1998, after earning her radiation technology degree from our School of Health Professions.
“I try to think of each patient as a family member and treat them how I would want a member of my family to be treated,” Karrie tells me. “It’s how all of us treat our patients. Our team is really incredible, made up of very special people.”
Facing cancer is so tough, and loved ones want to do everything they can to help. It means so much that the members of my dad’s care team feel the same way – that they want to do all they can for him. Karrie proved that and her thoughtfulness was so touching.
Small things make a big difference
Small acts of kindness are something Karrie has always given to others. But she considers these more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our patients, who already go through so much, are going through so much more right now,” she says. “Those caring for them also are going through a lot. So doing whatever we can to extend kindness to others doesn’t cost us, but can mean so much to the person receiving it.”
That was certainly true for my dad.
“Those who have come alongside me in my battles against cancer have provided such meaningful support,” my dad says. “Karrie is now a member of those special people in my life.”
Learn about MD Anderson’s COVID-19 response and precautions we’re taking to protect our patients and workforce members.
“You are not alone.” These are just a few of the kind words that Donya’ Easterly came home to find posted on her front door recently.
Donya’, a career music instructor and a colorectal cancer patient, has felt the growing anxieties about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) shared by many cancer patients. In addition to worrying about contracting the coronavirus, patients are adjusting to another change: having to go to appointments alone as hospitals like MD Anderson restrict visitors to protect patients from COVID-19.
Facing cancer treatment alone – with her students
“None of us expected to be sitting in these chemotherapy chairs or going through these scans alone,” says Donya’, who lives alone and now drives herself to her appointments. “It might look like we are going through this alone, but we’re actually all going through this together.”
The dozens of handwritten notes that her former students surprised her with on her door reaffirmed this for Donya’, who taught music for over 30 years before her cancer treatment began to significantly disrupt her teaching last year. While Donya’ has had to close her music studio, her past students and their families have become lifelong friends and a strong support system for her. They’ve driven her to chemotherapy over the years and are now bringing her groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The bond I have with these students is like no other, and their support lifts me up,” she says. “I know that no matter where I am or what I am going through, my students of the past 30 years will always be there for me because of the bond we have shared through music.”
Since Robert Alvarado was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in 2014, his family has accompanied him to each appointment, from quick blood draws to 6-hour-long immunoglobulin infusions.
But his most recent appointment was different. Like other hospitals, MD Anderson has temporarily stopped allowing visitors at all of its campuses, in order to protect its patients and workforce members from the 2019 novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19. This meant that Robert would have to go to his infusion appointment by himself.
A new way to show support for leukemia patient
When the Alvarado family learned about the new visitation policy, they were disappointed, but they started working on a plan to continue showing Robert their support.
“Once the staff called and told us that he wouldn’t be able to have visitors with him at the clinic, we decided to make signs,” says Robert’s daughter, Alisa. “It was the closest thing to being there with him.”
When Robert’s wife, daughter and granddaughter dropped him off for his infusion appointment, they held up the posters as he walked into the building.
“I was very surprised by the signs,” Robert says. “And I thought it was great that my wife, daughter and grandkids all worked together to make them.”
Intravenous immunoglobulin infusions strengthen his immune system
Robert’s care team has been observing and monitoring his leukemia since his diagnosis, but he’s never actually needed leukemia treatment. That’s because his cancer is not progressing and he does not experience adverse symptoms from it.
However, after he began having recurrent episodes of pneumonia last year, he was referred to Janet Tu, M.D., at MD Anderson in Sugar Land. He now receives intravenous immunoglobulin infusions each month to strengthen his immune system.
“The treatment seems to be working,” Robert says. “I haven’t been in the hospital for pneumonia since I started getting the infusions.”
Family’s support makes a difference after leukemia diagnosis
Robert believes that, along with his MD Anderson care team, his family’s close involvement has helped him through cancer.
“I’ve had the support of all my family, and my wife has done an amazing job,” Robert says. “Being there is a big deal.”
Going with Robert to each appointment is one of the many ways that his family shows their support. So when they couldn’t be there in person, they got creative. As the sign made by Robert’s wife, Linda, reads: “I can’t be with you today, but you’re not alone” and “We will fight this together.” She also thanks the MD Anderson in Sugar Land staff.
“Visiting the clinic right now is a little different, with the extra screening and without any family members being there with you,” he says. “But my family and the clinic staff all do their best to make it seem normal.”
Still, the Alvarado family recognizes that this is a challenging time not just for patients and families, but also for the staff caring for them.
“When we dropped Robert off for his infusion before 8 in the morning, many of the employees were walking in for their shifts, and they noticed our posters. One of the staff at the front desk came out and asked if she could take our photo,” Alisa says. “We hope all of the nurses, doctors and clinic staff got a smile from our signs and know how grateful we are for the work they do.”
Natalie Sanchez knows that entering a treatment center like MD Anderson for the first time can be very intimidating for a newly diagnosed cancer patient.
“Most patients bring family members or friends along for support,” says Sanchez, a nurse manager at MD Anderson West Houston. “But now that MD Anderson has adopted a ‘no visitors’ policy to protect patients from the coronavirus, they’re having to go to appointments alone. It's sad to see them walk through the door by themselves.”
Sidewalk notes provide encouragement during coronavirus pandemic
Sanchez and her co-workers have devised some creative ways to lift patients’ spirits and lessen their anxieties during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Take, for instance, the colorful sidewalk chalk creations that greet patients before they enter the building.
Some drawings are whimsical, like the bumble bee with the “bee happy” message, or the bright yellow star that urges patients to “keep shining.” Others offer notes of encouragement printed in block letters, like “stay strong,” or simply, “hope.”
Sanchez and business manager Jacque Andrepont were the first to decorate the sidewalk, with help from their spouses and children. Now, others are pitching in.
“Our patients love it,” Sanchez says. “They go out of their way not to step on the drawings.”
The artwork has inspired some patients to paint rocks with encouraging messages like “never give up,” and “spread kindness,” which they place in the hospital’s colorful gardens.
“Small things can turn into beautiful moments,” Sanchez says.
Callie Piper is a planner with a capital “P.” And nothing thrown her way during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed that.
“I’ve always been ultra-organized,” says Callie, an event planner with a human resources company. “There’s nothing more rewarding than detailing every step of a project in advance, then seeing it play out perfectly.”
Those planning skills kicked in two months ago when Callie was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer called Hodgkin lymphoma.
“Fighting this disease would involve at least six months of appointments and procedures,” she says. “My calendar was about to drastically change.”
Callie shared her treatment schedule with her boyfriend and best friend so that one or both could accompany her to every appointment.
“I knew I’d need help remembering everything the doctor told me,” she says. “And, frankly, it’s reassuring to have a loved one there holding my hand. I’m a strong and independent person, but cancer is scary.”
A plan for Callie’s Hodgkin lymphoma treatment
Callie’s first visit to MD Anderson on March 4 was filled with back-to-back tests that began at 6:45 a.m. and lasted until 5:30 p.m. The results confirmed that the initial diagnosis provided by her hometown doctor was accurate. She had stage II Hodgkin lymphoma.
“I felt vulnerable and confident at the same time,” she recalls. “Vulnerable because I had cancer, yet confident that MD Anderson – the best cancer center in the country – would help me beat this disease.”
During the appointment, Callie met her new oncologist, Sairah Ahmed, M.D., who spelled out the next steps.
“She laid it on the line,” Callie remembers. “I’d have six months of chemotherapy, and if that didn’t wipe out all my cancer, I’d have a bone marrow transplant. Dr. Ahmed had it all planned out – you know, I like that. Never proceed without a plan.”
COVID-19 precautions bring changes for cancer treatment
A week later, Callie underwent her first round of chemotherapy. Her boyfriend, Michael, was tied up with a work assignment in Austin, so her best friend came along.
That’s the last time – for a while – that a visitor would be allowed to hold Callie’s hand during chemotherapy. To protect patients and employees from the coronavirus, MD Anderson was no longer permitting visitors to accompany patients to appointments.
“The night before my second chemotherapy session, I checked MyChart – MD Anderson’s patient portal,” Callie says. “A notice appeared saying that effective the next day, March 24 – the day of my chemo – visitors were no longer allowed due to COVID-19.”
Finding another way despite COVID-19 visitor changes
Michael had planned to accompany Callie to her appointment, and she was determined that he would, despite the pandemic.
True to form, she made a plan. She would take her iPad to MD Anderson, and use it to bring Michael into the treatment room.
The next morning, the couple drove to MD Anderson. Because he wasn’t allowed inside, Michael delivered Callie to the front door, then drove to an MD Anderson-designated cell phone lot where families wait while their loved ones are inside.
Within minutes, Callie called Michael to say she’d made it through the COVID-19 screening that checks for fever, and was cleared to enter the building.
“Once he knew I was inside, he began driving home, where his computer was waiting to connect to my iPad,” Callie explains.
Another person in the room
As Michael drove, Callie arrived at her first stop – the MD Anderson lab, where a technician drew her blood in preparation for chemotherapy. Next, she proceeded to Ahmed’s office and met with the medical team.
And she invited a visitor into the room.
“I used my iPad to call Michael using FaceTime video chat,” Callie says, “Then I sat my iPad in the exam room chair, exactly where Michael would have sat if he’d been there.”
Callie carefully positioned the device to offer Michael the best view of herself and the medical staff.
“It was just like he was in the room with us,” she says. “The staff talked to the iPad as though it was Michael in the chair.”
And Michael talked back.
“I listened to what the medical staff said and took notes,” he recalls. “I heard the results of her lab tests. I asked questions for clarification. It was the next-best thing to being there in person.”
After her doctor cleared Callie for chemo, she proceeded to treatment with “Michael” in tow.
He kept her company while four cancer-fighting drugs were infused into her bloodstream for three hours, then drove back to the hospital to pick her up and take her home.
“Having him ‘virtually’ there was a nice diversion,” Callie says. “Time just flew by.”
The power of technology
The FaceTime experience was so successful that Callie is now expanding her chemotherapy chats to include additional family members.
“I have a wide network of family support, but most of my relatives are in Utah and South Dakota,” she says. “They had all booked flights to Houston and were planning to take turns being here to support me, but COVID-19 put a stop to that.”
During this time of social distancing, Callie encourages patients to use technology to keep family and friends informed and to stay on top of MD Anderson’s latest updates.
“Check MD Anderson’s website and social media sites during this time of rapidly evolving information,” she advises. “MD Anderson will tell you what you need to know before you even think to ask. When cancer and coronavirus leave you feeling vulnerable, staying informed gives you back some control.”
Help us #endcancer
Due to our response to COVID-19, all blood donations at MD Anderson
Blood Donor Center locations are being held by appointment only.