Focusing on the patient. A first-hand experience with Mission Cancer + Blood.

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Bruce Kawahara was prepared to deal with his kidney stones. But when his CT scan showed a mass near his kidney, he began a completely different journey.

Bruce was diagnosed with B-cell marginal zone lymphoma in January 2021, which meant there were lymph nodes involved above and below the diaphragm. He was referred to oncologist Dr. Tara Graff at Mission Cancer + Blood and scheduled an appointment with her shortly after his diagnosis.

“Dr. Graff was straightforward with me from the start,” Kawahara said. “I was blown away. Her passion and energy for her work, and her confidence in the treatment really helped me deal with the emotions I was feeling.”

As a consultant and executive coach, Kawahara has spent considerable time working with healthcare executives and physicians on the importance of the patient experience. Now that he was the patient, he got a new perspective on what that actually meant.

He began a six-month chemotherapy regimen, going in two days each month to receive infusions.

“From the very first time I arrived, everyone at Mission Cancer + Blood was unbelievably fantastic,” Kawahara said. “From the receptionist who is your first point of contact, to the lab techs, to the oncology nurses and doctors, they all treated patients well.”

On his visits, Kawahara would settle into the chair and get comfortable for the multi-hour infusion process. From that chair, he saw his personal experience with the staff exemplified over and over again as he watched them interact with patients, sometimes having a personal conversation, bringing them a blanket, making sure they were comfortable.

“The thing that makes them so good at what they do is that they focus on the patient, not just the procedure happing to the patient,” he said. “They are very skilled in the clinical aspect of administering chemo but it’s their personalized interaction and compassion with each and every patient that sets them apart.”

The chemo experience is different for everyone so there’s not a ‘one size fits all’ way of working with patients. For Kawahara, the effects from his chemo kicked in a few days after the infusion. He could barely get out of bed on those days, and everything was difficult.

“Shuffling 10 feet from the bedroom to the bathroom was all I could manage and then I was exhausted,” he said.

Physician Assistant Alecia Raymer, who he saw before most of his chemo treatments, worked with Kawahara on understanding and managing his side effects which helped tremendously. And he kept coming back to Dr. Graff’s confidence and the way she empowered him to believe he could beat his cancer.

And he did! Following his last treatment, the PET scan was clear with no evidence of cancer. He is now on a two-year maintenance program while working to regain his strength and energy.

“What I will always be grateful for is how at Mission Cancer + Blood, we as patients were always recognized as individuals and people, not just as cancer patients,” Kawahara said. “They were always there for me; they knew me, and they understood my journey. Cancer treatment is hard, but they made it easier.”

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