From cancer to a career in healthcare
- Posted on January 24, 2019
- Estimated reading time 4 minutes
The following blog post was written by Avanade alum Melanie Dowczek.
The median age of a person at the time of their breast cancer diagnosis is 62.
When I was diagnosed, I was 25.
At this time in my life, I was newly married (diagnosed 3 days after my one-year wedding anniversary), had a 1-year old baby, was working as a controller, and attending school to obtain my undergraduate degree. Getting cancer right then really wasn’t in the cards.
Nevertheless, I decided to persevere and work my hardest to ensure my diagnosis didn’t disrupt my life plans. I would work during the weekdays, undergo chemotherapy treatment on Thursday and Friday, go to class on the weekends (the program I was in required 8 hours every Saturday and Sunday), and begin the whole cycle again on Monday. It was exhausting. Thankfully, I was able to beat this illness and am happily 20 years cancer-free. And it was actually this unbelievably difficult experience that eventually led me to a career at Avanade!
During my time as a patient, I noticed many things about the patient experience that were less than ideal. Being a cancer patient is confusing and having all sorts of information thrown at you all at once is nothing short of overwhelming. For example, although I’m sure I was told at some point that mouth sores were a likely side effect of chemo, that information got lost in a sea of other things to be aware of, and three days after I began treatment, I was shocked when painful sores emerged. What if I had some sort of app or email that showed up within hours of my treatment with all the symptom reminders and tips for addressing? No such thing existed, and I found myself in a fog.
Because of experiences like this, I knew that I wanted to get into the healthcare field and work to improve cancer patients’ interactions with the healthcare system. I wanted create opportunities for patients to be active participants in their own care rather than just a passenger.
However, I didn’t immediately enter this field post-treatment. As I’m sure many cancer survivors can relate, the dread that this disease could creep up again is ever-present. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to surround myself with patients going through the same treatments I did when I was still living in fear that I could end up back in their shoes. It was only when I reached the ten-year mark of being cancer-free that I felt ready to take the leap into healthcare.
My husband thought I was crazy: why would I leave a career in finance, in which I was established and had paid my dues, to enter a new field where I had no experience? But the role I ended up in wasn’t all that different from my days as a controller; my experience managing key performance indicators (KPIs) and process improvement ended up being a much-needed asset in an industry that was only just beginning to see itself as a business.
I began my new career path at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic where I had already been volunteering as a mentor with the 4th Angel program founded by Olympic figure skater Scott Hamilton. Landing in the Office of Patient Experience at the Cleveland Clinic is where my love for technology really started to blossom; I loved solving business problems with technology, especially with the added benefit of improving patient experience at the same time. I spent some wonderful years there, but when a key mentor of mine chose to jump to the consulting field, I chose to make that career change as well. Although I lost direct contact with patients, a consulting role allowed me to impact patients at multiple organizations, not just one, and really be able to implement changes that I knew patients would value.
I eventually found myself at Avanade, hired to run the health industry for our Business Applications practice. Thankfully, the healthcare industry has shifted a great deal since I was a patient, allowing patients to become more involved in their own care plan and modernizing processes to improve quality of care, but there is still a lot more work to do. We are constantly getting engaged from both the provider and payer sides to bring multi-disciplinary organizations together, ultimately improving the overall patient experience.
Although I have been cancer-free for more than 20 years, my cancer diagnosis undeniably altered the trajectory of my life; I entered a career I never expected and have been able to impact many more lives than I ever thought possible. I love that I get to combine my passion for technology and human impact every day at Avanade!