Misha Hawkins holds the distinction of being the first cell-therapy coordinator in MD Anderson’s Lymphoma and Myeloma department, where she works with patients who are enrolled in clinical trials that focus on a form of immunotherapy known as CAR T-cell therapy.
This promising new cancer treatment takes immune cells – the cells that fight invaders like viruses, bacteria and cancer – from a patient’s bloodstream, then reprograms them to recognize and attack a specific protein found in cancer cells. The souped-up immune cells are then reinfused into the patient’s bloodstream where they attack and destroy tumor cells. The Food and Drug Administration approved the treatment in October 2017.“I take care of patients from referral to 30 days after infusion,” Hawkins says.
Starting from the beginning
“As my department’s first cell-therapy coordinator, I was tasked with getting the program up and running,” Hawkins says.
This involved administrative duties such as creating the cost estimate for treatment, working with the hospital’s legal department on patient consent forms, and consulting with the pharmacy to ensure the proper drugs were on hand.
Hawkins also created an educational guide for patients and established a communications network that encompassed all the interdisciplinary teams that provide services to MD Anderson’s CAR T-cell patients.
“Because I was the first person in this role, I established the structure and the day-to-day workflow for delivering this therapy when it was introduced at MD Anderson,” Hawkins says. “It’s continuing to evolve.”
Hawkins first came to MD Anderson after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She worked as a charge nurse on the lymphoma floor, and today works with many of the same doctors she worked with then.
A fulfilling new career
She’s a “second-career” nurse. Her first job was with a law firm where she worked as a project coordinator and honed the organizational skills needed in her current position. Earning a master’s degree in nursing administration from The University of Texas at Arlington helped further sharpen her skills.
“My role at MD Anderson takes a lot of balance and coordination,” Hawkins says.
MD Anderson’s first CAR T-cell patient received an infusion from Sattva Neelapu, M.D., professor of Lymphoma and Myeloma, and continues to do well.
Hawkins stays in touch with the patient and his family.
“Family support is so important when you’re dealing with cancer,” she says. “It can make the road to recovery a little less bumpy.”
Hawkins is the mother of 2- and 6-year-old boys, and credits her late mother for instilling in her the drive and passion that led to her success.
“She was very driven and very strong. I do have a lot of her ambition and passion. My mom died right when I found out I was pregnant with my first son. I see so much of her in him. My husband and I joke that he’s been here before.”