Cruz: How survivor volunteers help new patients
Rachel Cruz Auwarter, of Bellaire, Texas, is chair of the Advance Team, MD Anderson’s next-generation volunteer advisory board. After graduating from The George Washington University Law School, she practiced commercial litigation in Washington, D.C., and in Chicago before putting her career on temporary hold to start a family. She and husband Todd Auwarter have two sons, Ryan and Miles.
What three words best describe you?
Positive, grateful and loyal
Do you have hobbies or a favorite pastime?
I read as much as I can, visit independent bookstores and collect books and quirky literary items. I also love to travel, with national parks one of my favorite types of destination. Finally, I love spending time outdoors and gardening, particularly edible gardening.
What’s most important in life?
When I was expecting my first child and sitting in the waiting room at MD Anderson’s melanoma clinic, I remember thinking, “Give my family and me good health, and I can handle anything else life sends my way.” That thought is still true for me. I think being grateful for what you have and nurturing meaningful relationships are the keys to a fulfilling life. My family is at the center of everything — my husband is my best friend, I have a family who loves and supports each other unconditionally, and I am only as happy as my two sons are. I am grateful every day for them and for continued good health. Everything else is secondary.
Please tell us about your personal connection to MD Anderson.
I had been aware of MD Anderson for years but did not really get to know the institution until I received my melanoma diagnosis. I was lucky: We detected the melanoma early, I had successful treatment and our son was born as healthy as can be. My cancer experience, unwelcome as it was, gave me a window into what is special about MD Anderson. It was a privilege to receive and witness an unparalleled level of compassion, caring and respect, first during treatment and later while volunteering at the hospital. I continue to be floored by how tirelessly the clinicians, researchers, administrators and everyone in between work toward eliminating the disease and alleviating the suffering of patients and caregivers.
What do the words “Making Cancer History®” mean to you?
It’s a phrase that resonates with me — it’s forward-looking on several levels. First, it reminds me of the incredible accomplishments and revolutionary strides that are ongoing at MD Anderson. The institution’s thousands of cancer fighters are truly making history every day. Second, the phrase reminds me of MD Anderson’s mission: to end cancer. I like to think that someday cancer will be a scourge that future generations will read about in books rather than experience themselves.
How did you get involved with the Advance Team and what’s been most rewarding as a member?
I had been involved at MD Anderson through Volunteer Services and Merchandising for some time. I saw cancer’s real effect on patients and their families, as well as the hope that being at a place like MD Anderson instilled in those individuals. It drove me to find additional, broader ways to support cancer prevention and research efforts and to give back to the institution. A friend put me in touch with a couple of Advance Team members, and I learned about what these volunteer leaders accomplish. It’s tough to name the single most rewarding aspect of being part of this group, but one that I have especially enjoyed has been promoting awareness of the institution within the community. I love being able to tell people about what an amazing place it is and helping others seek care here.
What are your goals as Advance Team chair?
I think one of the challenges of having a highly engaged, highly motivated group of individuals like those on the Advance Team is that it is difficult to keep track of each person’s awareness and fundraising efforts as well as their interests in specific cancer-related causes. I plan to build on immediate past chair Holden Rushing’s efforts to increase communication between Advance Team leaders and the membership so that we can educate each other on our respective activities, better support each other’s efforts and strengthen our impact. In addition, I would love to expand the Advance Team’s involvement in MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital to include more hands-on involvement with MD Anderson’s pediatric cancer patients and their families in addition to our support through events such as Santa’s Elves and the Little Galleria series.