A Transformational Leader and Friend in Cancer Care

Extraordinary Healer®Extraordinary Healer Vol. 18
Volume 18

Ludmila brings warmth and compassion to the patient, treating each individual as important.




Over the years, as I chatted with colleagues about my far-fetched interest in community-focused work or international health care, I was often met with, “Do you know Ludmila?” She became almost an enigma, someone who I wasn’t sure existed or who was too far beyond my reach. I was grappling with what seemed to be a contradictory notion: to find a position that bridged the gap between academic institutions and community-based work that focused on marginalized groups.

I had recently taken a nurse director role with the hope of bringing more diversity and equity to our infusion world, but realized I knew little about who that included or the barriers they faced. And then suddenly, in a twist of fate, Ludmila Svoboda, M.S.N., M.A., B.S.N., RN, OCN, entered my world in two different ways.

I had recently become a mentor for our newly licensed nursing (NLN) program. And who else happened to be a mentor (since the initiation of the program, I should add) but Ludmila! While we were both mentors, we had few chances to meet and get to know one another. Around this same time, she gave a presentation on her work with the Cancer Care Equity Program. I can’t remember the specifics of what she talked about, but I remember feeling more energized than I had in a long time. I promptly emailed her to find some time for us to connect.

As most things go, days got busy, there were too many meetings, and patient issues in clinic needed to be addressed. Our meeting got bounced around and finally fell off the radar. It was our work as mentors that allowed us to finally connect. During a potluck celebration for our new NLN graduates, I had my first chance to really engage with Ludmila. I felt an instant connection with her, like we somehow already knew and understood each other.

Many more months and life events occurred before we connected again. I was in a period of personal struggle and transition. I couldn’t remain in my director role for many reasons but had no idea what my next steps should be. There was so much anxiety and uncertainty within me, and suddenly the metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel appeared. Ludmila emailed me that the Cancer Care Equity Program posted a job for an oncology nurse navigator, in case I knew someone who would be interested. I’m not sure a faster response to an email has ever been recorded and it went something like, “Me, me, me!”

We met to discuss the position and the scope of the work. In just that one conversation, I felt heard, accepted and hopeful.

As I went through the interview process and learned more about the work and the people of the Cancer Care Equity Program, I was blown away, particularly with the patient navigator role. As an infusion nurse, I met patients once all the “pre-work” was done. The patient was aware of their diagnosis, a plan had been created, and they sat with me ready to being the journey of cancer treatment.

I had never stopped to think of what it takes to get a patient to the front door of our institute. Emotionally and physically, it is a difficult moment for anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer. Add to that the structural and financial barriers those from marginalized communities face, and the effort that needs to be put toward making cancer treatment a priority is just astonishing. Prioritizing cancer treatment is, in fact, a luxury, not a given, for many individuals.

Our patient navigators are integral to getting a patient through the doors. We work with the patient prior to their first appointment to start addressing the barriers that may prevent them from coming, whether they be transportation, language, financial or any of the other structural barriers that our patients may face. Our patient navigators continue to reevaluate an individual’s social determinants of health throughout a patient’s care continuum. The patient navigators work tirelessly to connect patients to community organizations, apply patients to foundations that provide financial assistance, and submit letters of hardship so utilities aren’t shut off. They have visited homeless shelters to make sure one is safe for the patient while they are immunocompromised. They have gotten funding for and purchased mattresses and furniture to fill apartments, which they have helped patients to secure. This list could go on for pages, but what they do is little in comparison to the relationships and connections they build with patients, from meeting them at the front door for their first appointment, to accompanying them to provider visits, to visiting them while hospitalized, to supporting them and their family during end-of-life care, if necessary. The commitment and the work that is done are breathtaking.

This work is amazing — don’t get me wrong — but it is amazing because of how Ludmila built this role. She did this work herself for over 10 years, without the support and resources that have been gathered over the years. With her humility, compassion and tireless dedication, she built this patient navigator role and has supported its expansion into multiple disease groups at our institution and at the federally qualified health centers at which we continue to work.

Ludmila has been intentional in creating the team around her, finding those individuals who understand and are dedicated to this work. She works closely with new team members to guide them in their roles. Ludmila deeply believes in each member of our team. She sees the strengths of each individual and helps them hone those skills, while building new ones too, facilitating their personal growth. Ludmila inspires those around her to be their best authentic selves and invest in the work they are doing, which allows them to provide exceptional patient care. She challenges you to build trust, respect and empathy for those who allow us to enter their lives in the most vulnerable of situations. To see her interact with a patient is to see cultural humility and empathy in action.

She is the model of the person and nurse I hope to be. Ludmila brings warmth and compassion to the patient, treating each individual as important. She leans into the individual’s story and follows them into the hurt and struggles they have faced, while simultaneously planning the ways in which we can support them, which foundations they should apply to, and which community organizations they should reach out to.

I can’t think of anyone more “extraordinary” than Ludmila. She approaches her life and her work with an open heart and an open mind. She believes in the best version of each individual and wins over their trust with her warmth and enthusiasm. It is what has allowed her to touch the lives of so many and will allow us to expand this work to so many others in need.

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