When her husband Fred was diagnosed in 2016, Mitro had been laid off from her job during a downturn in the oil and gas industry in Houston. Over the following nine months, with frequent trips to MD Anderson for Fred’s chemotherapy treatments and checkups, the couple decided to delay Mitro’s return to work, allowing her to assume the role of primary caregiver.
“But I started finding myself with some spare time, and Fred, thank God, was not having strong side effects from his treatment,” Mitro remembers.
She applied online as a volunteer, passed the background check, completed the volunteer onboarding process, and was assigned to the Sarcoma Clinic. Working there one morning a week, four hours at a time, she greets people, brings them coffee or warm blankets, and visits with them. If the patients have been waiting for a while, she checks on the clinic’s progress and reports how much longer they should expect to wait.
By summer 2017, Fred’s chemo was completed, and he qualified for the next step in his treatment plan. The protocol called for a stem cell transplant to replace unhealthy blood cells with healthy ones and help restore his immune system.
“Prior to beginning the stem cell transplant, they tell you as a caregiver that you need to prepare yourself to be in the hospital with your family member between three and seven weeks,” Mitro says. “We had eight very bad days out of a total of 21, but then, like rebooting a computer, everything started working again.”
During the stem cell transplant, Mitro took a break from her volunteer work. Afterward, she went back to the volunteer supervisor and said, “Give me something else where I can be in contact with caregivers. I know what it takes, and I want to do more.”
A native of Colombia, Mitro is bilingual and was assigned to international patients whose primary language is Spanish. Now, in addition to her work in the Sarcoma Clinic, she visits international patients and their caregivers in the patients’ rooms. When she introduces herself as a caregiver, they have many questions about the patient experience and navigating within the hospital and in Houston.
“This is a win-win,” she says.
Mitro is grateful that her husband is currently in partial remission, generally doing well, and that they live in Houston near MD Anderson, unlike the international patients who are far from home.
“It makes me so happy to share with our patients,” she says. “Every time I volunteer, I leave the hospital with a full and happy heart.”