As a registered nurse and a cancer survivor, I have a somewhat unique perspective: I can see things from the point of view of both the patient and the care team.
When I sought a second opinion at MD Anderson after being diagnosed with cervical cancer in May 2010, I was amazed at the level of care I experienced. I’ve seen some things at MD Anderson that I haven’t found anywhere else.
Beside you every step of the way
The most amazing aspect of MD Anderson is the attentiveness and accessibility of the doctors. I would tell a technician I was having a side effect while receiving treatment, and within minutes, my physician would be standing right there, asking me what was wrong.
I live in Parsons, a small town in southeast Kansas with less than 10,000 people. Up here, you practically have to go to an ER to see a doctor. You could go to a clinic maybe 15 times and still never see the physician. So to have my doctors right there, asking me how they could help at every step of the way, was incredible.
One particularly bad day, I was too weak even to walk back to the dressing room after treatment. I felt like a truck had run over me. The technician noticed and said he was going to talk to the nurse. She came in and took my temperature, then said she’d be right back. Suddenly, my doctor was there, saying, “Let’s talk about what’s happening with you.” It turned out I had an infection. I didn’t know it, but I didn’t have to. They had noticed and identified that for me.
The courage to admit when you’re wrong
Another thing that surprised me was the doctors’ humility at MD Anderson. One day, my radiation oncologist, Anuja Jhingran, M.D., told me something that conflicted with what my treating physician, Diane Bodurka, M.D., had said earlier. I asked her to clarify so I’d know what to do, and when I saw her later, she apologized for the confusion. She said, “You know what? I talked to Dr. Bodurka and I was wrong. We do need to do this and this. I’m sorry.”
I was astonished. I’d never heard a doctor admit to being wrong before, much less apologize for it. Yet, everywhere I turned at MD Anderson, it was like that. People really paid attention and helped me all the time. Even when I was just sitting in Mays Clinic, everyone was so personable. All of the doctors and nurses greeted me by name and came to chat with me while they ate their lunches. I don’t understand how they remember everyone’s name, but they do.
I never felt alone
Up here in southeast Kansas, you have to drive at least two hours to get to anything, and there are no specialists. I tell everybody, “Don’t stay here in small town America. Get an expert to see you and tell you what’s happening. People here don’t do cancer every day. But MD Anderson does.”
The idea of traveling in a huge city like Houston was intimidating, but so was being at a hospital that employs more people than my hometown has residents. What’s funny is that in Kansas — where I knew practically everyone — I felt totally isolated. But once I got to Houston — where I hardly knew anyone — I never felt that I was alone or didn’t have resources. Everyone did a great job of making me feel comfortable.
Some people look at me and roll their eyes when I talk about MD Anderson, saying, “Oh, I’m sure you could have gone to Kansas City and gotten the same thing.” But I don’t think so. I’ve been around enough health care environments to recognize that what MD Anderson has is unique.
Finding things to be grateful for
Before I was a cervical cancer survivor, I used to be quite pessimistic. I’ve changed a lot since then. Some people lose limbs or other body parts that they want to keep when fighting this disease. I lost a uterus, but I was done having babies, so it didn’t seem like a big sacrifice to me. If the choice was between my uterus or my life, making that call was easy.
A very good friend of mine is a 17-year cancer survivor. Before I came to MD Anderson, he told me, “You know, it doesn’t really matter what type of cancer they say it is when you get there because you’ll never regret going. These people know what they’re talking about, and they know what they’re doing.” And after seeing it for myself, I know he’s right.