Research nurse Aurora Brandvold spent many years of her career by the bedside of bone marrow transplant patients. She helped treat them and often became quite attached to them. It's the patients, she said, who have given her the drive to excel in her nursing career. And it's the patients who keep her a committed member of the Long-Term Follow-Up Program (LTFU) staff.
During her career, first at Swedish Medical Center and later at the Hutchinson Center, she has learned a great deal about cancer patients. She worked as a transplant nurse and spent time in intensive care nursing. Today, she applies that knowledge to continue helping patients who seek assistance from LTFU.
One of Brandvold's key jobs is to answer important questions from patients who fill out a questionnaire as part of the LTFU program. She calls them to discuss their questions or concerns, and if she doesn't have the answers, she refers them to the appropriate resources.
Brandvold likes to emphasize to patients that they should always return their questionnaires — about 4,000 patients are followed through the LTFU program — especially when they're doing well.
"A lot of people who get better sometimes tell us they don't want to send us the questionnaires anymore. But their information is just as important," she said.
That's because it can help other patients cope with potential problems following a transplant by helping physicians explore why some patients do better than others, she said. For example, several years ago LTFU researchers noticed a pattern in the questionnaires that patients were returning.
"We noticed that many people were saying they were fatigued," Brandvold said. Fatigue, of course, is typical among cancer survivors, and it became clear that patients who exercised regularly felt better. Soon after, LTFU began telling patients that exercise was one way to fight fatigue.
Brandvold also assists Dr. Leona Holmberg in coordinating clinical trials for autologous stem-cell transplant patients. This includes making sure the research conforms to regulations as well as collecting data Dr. Holmberg and her colleagues use in designing new research studies.
Every Thursday, you'll find Aurora talking with returning patients during support group sessions. Patients outside the area may also participate in these sessions by telephone. A native of Saskatchewan, Canada, she moved to the Puget Sound area with her husband. Her health career, which started in Saskatchewan and continued in the states, was capped with a master's degree in public health from Seattle University.
Her husband is retired and wonders when she'll do the same. "I love my job. Patients are the most important thing. That's why I'm still here," Brandvold said.