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Sandra Larson

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Sandra LarsonI joined the Flint Animal Cancer Center as oncology client coordinator in August, 2012 after many years of admiring all the organization stands for. I’ve lived in Fort Collins for nearly a decade, with a decade in New York City before that. My role as the oncology client coordinator is to help clients and referring veterinarians from all over the world connect to our clinical expertise and services. I manage our online consultation service and help people by phone and in person, too.

Back when I started working in cancer communications in 1996, I had never knowingly met someone who had gone through a diagnosis or treatment.

Fortunately, I was mentored by an incredible oncology nurse. Fran took me under her wing and inspired my lifelong fascination for cancer research, and my deep respect for listening to people affected by cancer. Ever since, I’ve believed that we can deliver the best cancer care when we start by listening to the people and patients in front of us. Bringing their voices to the center of our efforts can make all the difference.

My Mom went through a serious illness recently that put me more personally on the patient’s side of medicine than any other time in my life. While I thought I understood hospitals, I found myself not able to absorb all the information and options. Things felt very disconnected, and that made our family only worry all the more.

Uncertainty involving the health of someone you love is so overwhelming, but I believe even in the most difficult times there can always be bright moments. I’ll never forget the doctor who always had a kind hand on the shoulder for my Mom and greeted my Dad by looking him in the eyes, shaking his hand and calling him by name. Those courtesies might seem a minimum requirement, but can get lost in health care. When we make a point of safeguarding respect and compassion in how we care, it shows.

Anything we can do to help our FACC clients feel supported and safe in our world is so beneficial. It’s humbling to witness people finding their sense of strength and purpose, whatever that may look like, as they care for their pets. I’m in awe of the clients who come here. They are so dedicated to their animals.

Thinking about the needs of people dealing with cancer has been a large part of my life’s work, whether I was a communication specialist or a patient navigator. Navigation is defined as “the science and art of moving safely and efficiently from one part of the world to another.” That’s huge for people thrust into the cancer world. Learning what we can do to help them feel informed and safer while they are trying to do the right thing for their pet is key.

There aren’t many centers that dedicate a person to helping clients connect to its experts. It’s one reason I’m so excited to be on the FACC team. Plus the fact that the faculty, residents, students, counselors and nurses here are the best-of-the-best. When my work allows them to focus their attention on delivering their expertise for our patients and clients, I feel I’m doing my part for our mission. Keeping information flowing, ensuring client preferences are learned and shared - those are the types of things that can be guided behind the scenes to make our care feel more coordinated and personal for our patients and clients.

Years ago I shared a walk with my older sister and she posed the “what would you do if you could do anything?” question. I said I wanted to work to help make patients feel better heard during cancer care. The incredible thing is to now find myself serving in this way at the best animal cancer center in the world. Once you become aware of the style of compassionate leadership in treatment, research and teaching that happens here, it’s hard to accept anything else. A positive team approach is a given. It’s an amazing place to be.

 

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