Rhonda Armstrong Trevino, program coordinator in the Division of Pediatrics, wears two hats. She's a mom and an MD Anderson employee on the Family Advisory Council (FAC) in the Children's Cancer Hospital at MD Anderson.
As part of the FAC, Rhonda has the opportunity to be the voice of the patient and parent, while serving as a link between the Children's Cancer Hospital and MD Anderson.
Putting patients first is at the core of the FAC, and her role as a mother plays a big part in helping her stay focused on what matters.
How it all began
In 2005, Rhonda's daughter, Abigail, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma of the left distal femur (left thigh) at age 12. While many girls her age were excited about starting junior high school, Abigail was struggling with losing her independence.
"Her leg was a huge struggle," Trevino says. "She could not run or jump rope anymore. She was not able to go to school, either. I was sad. It was a horrible time. Our life stopped as we knew it and we had to learn a new normal. This was a horrible new normal. I made cancer into a person. I hated it. I wanted to destroy it. Why did it seek out my child? I made it very personal."
In 2007, Rhonda was asked to serve on the Family Centered Care steering committee, which later became the FAC. The goal of the committee was to make the experience of care at the Children's Cancer Hospital the best anywhere.
"One of the things that would keep us focused on the committee was to hire a parent, since they are the expert on their child," Trevino says. "I applied for the position and was hired. The parent part remained easy. It was natural; I could relate.
What is family-centered care?
The FAC is made up of parents and staff who are dedicated to improving family-centered care.
"The employees are experts in cancer and the parents are experts on our children," Trevino says. When we all work together, we have better outcomes."
The core concepts of family-centered care include:
• Respect and dignity
• Information sharing
Wearing the mom hat
"Although I am an employee, I am always a mom first," Trevino says. "I think parents are sometimes afraid to speak up or ask questions, so the FAC is a tool that allows us to do that. It provides a safe place for employees and families to be able to give their honest feedback and see results. From helping write the new Children's Cancer Hospital mission and vision statement to serving on the G9 expansion project, we are making a difference."
Wearing the employee hat
"The FAC helps us all stay grounded and reminds us of why we do what we do," Trevino says. "It's a journey and it never ends. The more we do, the more there is to do. We are getting the message out that we are here for the families, patients and staff. We are all a member of the child's care team in one way or another."
Brighter days ahead
June 27, 2012, marked a very important day for the Trevino family. Recent scans indicate that Abigail is officially cancer free.
The five-year journey of emotional and physical struggles ended with a sense of healing for Abigail and her family. Trevino recalls, "When I realized that cancer is just that, 'cancer,' and that it did not seek out Abi, it just happened, I was able to heal.
"I was able to forgive cancer. What an amazing moment in my life. A huge burden was lifted. I would still like to destroy it, though. I want a cure."