Elsa So had been working at MD Anderson as a night-shift nursing assistant for nine years when her daughter, Marivic, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and uterine cancer in March 2013.
And while the news came as a shock to both women, it was Elsa’s intimate knowledge of MD Anderson that gave her hope while her daughter received treatment here.
“As an employee, I knew that MD Anderson would take good care of her because that’s how I am with all of my patients,” Elsa says. “I had faith in her care team. I knew that my daughter was in good hands.”
During Marivic’s treatment, Elsa discovered an unexpected benefit of working here: being close enough to keep tabs on her daughter during the day.
“I was working in the same building she was admitted to twice,” Elsa says. “So I just had to go down from the 16th floor to the 10th floor. I visited her during my breaks and lunch hour.”
Still, working all night and then acting as the primary caregiver for her daughter during the day took its toll. Sometimes Elsa felt like she was working a double shift — or even around the clock.
“It was hard because I saw the patients I was taking care of and how much pain some were in,” Elsa says. “It broke my heart to see the same things happening to my daughter. I also couldn’t sleep during the day because I wanted to know how she was doing and what her care team was planning.”
A new perspective
The most rewarding part of acting as Marivic’s caregiver was getting to see MD Anderson as a parent instead of a nursing assistant.
“I finally understood how the other side feels,” Elsa says. “Not as an employee treating a patient, but as a mother caring for her daughter.”
Elsa also received strong support from her co-workers — both as a colleague and a caregiver.
“They knew my daughter and were shocked to learn about her diagnosis,” Elsa says. “They gave me advice and someone to talk to.”
Celebrating victory together
The day that Marivic was declared free of cancer, both women rejoiced. Now, Elsa supports her daughter by participating in events such as MD Anderson’s Sprint for Life 5K Run/Walk, which raises money for ovarian cancer research.
“Because I work at MD Anderson, I see patients suffer from the side effects of treatment every day,” Elsa says. “But even though Marivic had some, in the end, she came out of it stronger. And I am very grateful she was able to get treatment here.”
Advice for other caregivers
Elsa admits it was hard seeing her daughter face cancer, but she emphasizes the importance of maintaining a good attitude.
“There are a lot of times when you may feel helpless,” Elsa says. “But if you think you're feeling tired and drained, just think what a cancer patient is feeling. So stay positive and keep smiling.”