Instead of flocking to the Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China or other “must-see” attractions, Gilhart rents a bicycle or scooter and rides to small towns and rural villages to spend time with the locals.
“I want to absorb their culture, eat their food, and speak their language,” says Gilhart, an MD Anderson nurse. “People are fascinating. I learn so much by going off the beaten path.”
She’s sheared wool on a New Zealand sheep ranch, visited an elementary school in Vietnam, and lived with a family in Mexico while learning to speak Spanish. Wherever she goes, Gilhart immerses herself in the communities she visits.
After visiting 55 countries on seven continents, she’s come to a conclusion: people everywhere are essentially the same.
“Though our cultures, religious beliefs and languages may differ,” she says, “we’re all the same in our shared humanity.”
Gilhart’s fascination with people from all walks of life is one of the reasons she came to work at MD Anderson 17 years ago.
“The people who come here from all over the world inspire me,” says Gilhart, who, as a member of the institution’s Nursing Resource Pool, works on various units depending on staffing needs. “Many make enormous personal and financial sacrifices to get here, yet they’re so grateful to be at MD Anderson.”
Gilhart felt called to help. With assistance from MD Anderson’s Development Office, she established a $20,000 endowment benefiting international patients. For seven years, Gilhart deposited what she could into the endowment until last year it reached the $20,000 goal amount. The Development Office is now investing the fund and it’s growing, bit by bit. Gilhart also has tailored her will to continue supporting the endowment upon her death.
Cancer has impacted Gilhart’s life not only as a caregiver, but also a patient. In 2008, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. When her prescribed medication caused severe hot flashes, Gilhart sought help from Meide Liu, M.D., who recently retired as the first acupuncturist to work at MD Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Center.
The treatment worked and Gilhart named her philanthropic fund in honor of Liu. She expanded the fund to provide acupuncture not only to international patients, but to all MD Anderson patients who may benefit.
“Studies have shown that acupuncture can help control a number of cancer symptoms and treatment side effects, including nerve pain, fatigue, nausea, insomnia and dry mouth caused by radiation,” explains Gilhart, who’s now in remission. “This 2,000-year-old branch of traditional Chinese medicine helped me through my cancer journey. I want others to have the same opportunity.”