May 05, 2016 10:00 AM

Author: Donna Branson

donna branson

My first job out of college was with the Cancer Information Service of Utah and Idaho as a Cancer Information Specialist. We operated out of the Utah Regional Cancer Center in the University of Utah School of Medicine—an office of six people. We were part of the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service network. My intention was to work long enough to get my husband through graduate school and then I was going to go to law school. I ended up loving my job because I could help people and make a difference in their lives. I have also loved all my co-workers and colleagues over the years.

I ran the Cancer Referral and Information Service of Utah for the Utah Regional Cancer Center from 1993 until 1997. I would average about 30 calls a month. To stay busy, I helped the Clinical Trials Office.

In 1997, I wrote a proposal to Joseph Simone, MD, then Clinical Director, to start a phone service for Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). I was hired in October 1997. In 1998, I hired four people to ramp up for the grand opening of the first research building. Today, this service has evolved into the Cancer Learning Center.

Memories from the Front Lines

In the course of my career, I have helped thousands of people and no two patients or families have dealt with cancer in the same way. One patient story that sticks with me the most is from my early days as a Cancer Information Specialist. I had a VA patient call the hotline. He had prostate cancer that had metastasized to the bone. He was receiving end-of-life care, was in pain, and was all alone. He just needed someone to talk to. He rotated calling me and my supervisor every day for about two months. We would put him on speaker phone while we got other tasks done. When he no longer had the strength to call in, we went to the hospital to visit him. We became his family and hopefully made his passing a little less lonely.

Another memory is of a man who sent me flowers shortly after his wife died to thank me for all the help I provided them during their journey. I felt so humbled that this man who was grieving for his wife would think to send me flowers.

What we do can extend lives. My best example is when a man newly diagnosed with multiple myeloma was told there was nothing the doctors could do and to go home and get his affairs in order. I got him in to HCI for a second opinion. He received treatment and lived another four years. This was years ago when the life expectancy for multiple myeloma was 18 months on average.

It has been a privilege trying to meet each person’s specific needs. As department director, I love the support our leadership gives to Patient and Public Education. They understand the importance and value the work we do. I can’t imagine working in a more supportive organization.

Donna Branson

Director, Patient and Public Education

health education cancer learning center

Cancer touches all of us.

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