28 Sep Olympic Medical Cancer Center staffer relates to patients like few others can
As he walks through the lobby of Olympic Medical Cancer Center, Shawn Gould, RN, sees a familiar face at an unexpected time. A patient is there for a follow-up appointment and, together – the patient, their partner and Gould – they spend a few minutes catching up. The happenstance meeting is a welcome one for all.
When later asked what he finds most rewarding about his job, Gould has a quick answer.
“It’s that,” he says, referencing the meeting in the lobby. “It’s connecting with patients, making an effect in their lives.”
Gould, a medical oncology nurse coordinator, at Olympic Medical Cancer Center in Sequim, can connect with patients in a way that few others in his position can.
About six years ago, Gould was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
“I was working at the hospital when I was diagnosed,” he recalls. “That was what drove me to work in oncology.”
After 14 years in the U.S. Army, including eight years on active duty, Gould worked in telecommunications in Seattle for a few years before moving to the Olympic Peninsula with his wife.
Gould went back to school to become an RN, enrolling in the nursing program at Peninsula College and finishing his degree at the age of 38. He has filled various roles over eight years with Olympic Medical Center, starting as a nurse on the Medical/Surgical floor before advancing to positions in Case Management, Clinical Informatics and, now, the Cancer Center.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” Gould said. “I wish had done it years before. Just being able to help people.”
I had cancer myself. I thought if I can take a bad experience and use that to help other people navigate a new diagnosis, then that's a good thing.
A couple years later, he received his cancer diagnosis.
“My life’s never been the same afterwards,” Gould said. “I’ll never get back to how I was before having cancer. To take that experience and use that to maybe help somebody else deal with something or tell them things that worked for me to deal with my symptoms, I’ve had patients say, ‘That really helped me.’ It makes them feel like I understand.”
Because of the type of cancer he was diagnosed with, Gould received treatment in Seattle, spending three or four days in the city every three months for two years.
“Having had to go to Seattle for my treatments, it’s a nightmare,” Gould said. “Dealing with the ferries, parking, the traffic, getting home after treatments.”
He recalls driving home alone to the Olympic Peninsula after receiving radiation because his wife couldn’t be in the car.
“It was definitely taxing,” Gould said. “It was adding…another layer of complication that I wish I didn’t have to deal with…It definitely had a financial cost and an emotional cost, too.”
Now, Gould can draw on his experience in helping patients navigate their own cancer diagnosis in Sequim.
“It helps build a connection that they can understand that my life’s changed by cancer too,” Gould said.
As a medical oncology nurse coordinator, Gould helps patients understand what to expect with chemotherapy treatment, triages phone calls from patients, manages medication refills, coordinates referrals with other clinics, reviews imaging and pathology reports and more.
“We have big city resources with a small-town feel,” Gould said. “I’ve had patients that have had treatment other places, and they’re amazed at how personal the interactions are here. You’re not just another person in a room or in a big open bay with people getting chemo. You get that small town feel but yet we have a state-of-the-art facility here, which is pretty amazing for being a small town like this.”
In his role, Gould works with Olympic Medical Cancer Center providers in both medical oncology and radiation oncology. When a patient is receiving concurrent treatment – chemotherapy and radiation treatment – at the cancer center in Sequim, Gould is one of many who coordinates care across the disciplines. Any one of OMCC’s seven medical oncology nurse coordinators work with the Center’s providers, schedulers, nurses, authorization representatives, pharmacists and others to ensure timely, efficient care for their patients.
“It’s like an orchestra,” Gould says. “Communication is critical.”
The Cancer Center employs about 60 staff in Sequim, including providers in medical oncology and radiation oncology, supporting top-notch chemotherapy and radiation treatment. In 2011, the Cancer Center became one of the first on the West Coast to invest in a TrueBeam linear accelerator, which delivers radiation therapy with pinpoint precision and accuracy. A second linear accelerator will be installed in Sequim in early 2022.
“We’re pretty blessed to have that here on the Peninsula,” Gould said.
Along with investing in advanced technology, the Cancer Center continues to upgrade its facility, remodeling private infusion suites and expanding its standalone pharmacy. Patients of Olympic Medical Cancer Center receive expert, individualized care and access to the latest technology without traveling across the Hood Canal Bridge.
Having made the journey for his own cancer treatment, Gould knows first-hand how much of a burden it can be to travel to Seattle on a regular basis when dealing with the symptoms of cancer and radiation therapy. For patients of Olympic Medical Cancer Center, many of whom already face a two-hour trip from the West End, the facility in Sequim is a saving grace.
“A lot of them probably wouldn’t get treatment if it wasn’t for us having the facility here,” Gould said. “Being able to provide services for our rural patients keeps them alive. I think a lot of them probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the facility. I’ve had several patients that said if it wasn’t for us being here, they don’t know what they would have done.”
Building those relationships with the patients is the best thing about my job.