Laura Wood, M.S.N., RN, OCN, has "skill, dedication, boundless compassion and drive to improve the lives of those affected by kidney cancer."
On behalf of the Kidney Cancer Association (KCA), I am nominating Laura Wood, M.S.N., RN, OCN, for the Extraordinary Healer® Award. Because of her skill, dedication, boundless compassion and drive to improve the lives of those affected by kidney cancer, I can think of no one more deserving of this recognition.
Laura’s foundational act of advocacy was starting the KCA’s Nurse Advisory Board (NAB) in 2006. Among groups such as the KCA, it is customary to have a slate of medical professionals who serve an advisory capacity; likely these are doctors. But Laura made the keen and practical observation that patients with cancer would benefit from additional experts who interact with patients the most — their nurses. These are the people who walk beside them through their cancer journey, who are on call at midnight, who sort through reams of paperwork and help patients and families understand how to overcome what they faced.
Laura gathered a group of nurses with expertise in kidney cancer from around the country. These nurses, who represented many National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers, provide patients and caregivers the best information and support. She has chaired the NAB (which eventually became the Clinical Advisory Board, or CAB) and also served on the KCA’s board of directors since then.
Through the CAB, Laura translated more than 35 years of kidney cancer knowledge into educational initiatives and resources that serve a global kidney cancer community beyond those directly under her expert care. She helped compile the basic kidney cancer information on the KCA website, developed a handbook for patients who recently received a diagnosis to use with their family and their care team, and helped plan the KCA’s Virtual Patient Symposium educational meetings, which are open to anyone who wants to learn about kidney cancer.
“Laura is an icon in (renal cell carcinoma) because of her knowledge and expertise in the field,” said Virginia Seery, M.S.N., RN, ANP-BC, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and a fellow CAB member. “She has a keen ability to educate others about RCC and the rapidly changing treatment paradigm. Laura is my ‘go-to’ resource for difficult patient situations. In addition, her organizational skills are outstanding and she is able to clearly identify priorities for the CAB to work on.”
Laura has always been ahead of the curve in patient education, enthusiastically participating in our patient video library to answer common kidney cancer questions for people who learn better by watching and listening and pushing to make digital materials more user friendly. She understood the power of the patient experience as a tool for connection and education, jump-starting the KCA’s focus on bringing personal stories and voices to our blog and social media.
Laura also spearheaded the CAB’s expansion to include social workers, radiology experts and physician assistants so that anyone who turned to the KCA for support could benefit from a multidisciplinary group of expert support care providers.
In terms of expertise, hers is unmatched.
Dr. Ron Bukowski, a member of the KCA’s board of directors and a noted oncologist who worked with Laura for many years at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (CCF) before his retirement, said:
“Laura was unquestionably the most capable and knowledgeable research nurse in our section of genitourinary oncology and experimental therapeutics in the CCF Taussig Cancer Center. She developed expertise in the care and treatment of renal cancer patients that was unrivaled. This was accompanied by a compassionate approach to patients and their families in an era when we were first developing effective therapy for these patients, including IL-2, interferon, sorafenib, (Sutent [sunitinib]) and (Inlyta [axitinib]).”
Many noted the extra measures Laura took to ensure patients under her care had all their possible needs met.
In addition, Laura was heavily involved in research and had the vision and understanding to see that clinical trials were a critical path toward improved outcomes for patients with kidney cancer, taking extra pains to connect those dots for patients and families.
“Laura was the consummate professional and patient advocate. She routinely put in extra effort to get a patient on a clinical trial, to take care of patients on a trial, and generally to be the consistent contact for patients and their families,” said Dr. Brian Rini, a medical oncologist and member of the KCA’s medical steering committee who also worked with Laura in genitourinary oncology at CCF. “When Laura was involved in a patient’s care, everything went smoothly and both the physician/provider team and the patient and family knew that every detail would be accounted for. She was truly exceptional and extraordinary in her role.”
Most recently, I’ve been awed by Laura’s strength through great personal transitions and tragedy. Laura retired last year after a long and illustrious career as the renal cancer clinical research coordinator at CCF to be a better caregiver to an ailing family member. Then in November 2021, Laura’s eldest daughter died in a traffic accident.
Even so, Laura continues with great courage, never wavering in her commitment to her kidney cancer community. With her typical can-do spirit, here is part of a recent message she sent to me and her fellow CAB members as we began our plans for the year:
“We begin 2022 focusing on the future and beginning a new year of working together with the KCA team to improve the lives of those with kidney cancer and their loved ones.”
We — and all the patients and families the KCA serves — are very lucky that Laura continues steadfastly by our side in our shared mission to serve and empower patients and families affected by kidney cancer. Thank you for considering this truly extraordinary healer.
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