Built Upon The Rock: Avera’s Mission in Cancer Care
At Avera Cancer Institute, elite professional medical teams, state-of-the-art technology and an array of services to treat a patient as a whole person – all are built upon a rock-solid foundation of faith.
The people who are on individual cancer journeys are not just seeking radiation therapy, talented surgeons and clinicians or unique genomic medical research.
“They are asking big questions – they are facing life and death realities and they are hoping and trusting that God will surround them with peace and mercy,” said Rev. Laurel Buwalda, Avera Cancer Institute chaplain. “I may have the title of chaplain, but I am certainly not the only minister in our facility. On any given day, you will find our staff praying with patients, or encouraging them. Our mission gives us room to infuse God’s grace into all our interactions.”
Buwalda realizes this idea encompasses all employees and approaches. “We are there to lean in when the difficult questions arise, and while we may not always have the answers, we can be present to validate their story of pain and courage,” she said.
“I don’t know why the Lord has allowed the burden of cancer, but I encourage people to live into the mystery of all that God is, to claim God’s faithfulness as our reality, no matter what we face.”
Marshall-based Avera chemotherapy infusion nurse Deb Baumann, RN, finds frequent connections with patients through faith. She prays for her patients and nurtures relationships.
“I enjoy getting to know my patients and developing close connections,” she said. “I’m happy to be able to offer them support and compassion during what can be a stressful time. I look at it like this: I’m one of God’s tools. He is using me to help get patients to the best they can be.”
Luis Rojas, MD, Avera Medical Group gynecologic oncologist, said the Avera mission lives daily in the interactions between professionals like him and the patients they serve.
“I have been here for 10 years, and what fills me up and keeps me here is the fact that our mission is real. We do not pay it lip service; we live it every day. That sentiment is widely shared among all who work here,” said Rojas. “We treat every patient like we’d want our loved ones to be treated. Many cases are difficult, or require tremendous work. But we bring it back to that first question: Within the science, is my plan the same approach I would take with my wife? If it’s not, we start over.
“That approach pretty much intertwines with the Avera mission and we just keep on trying, keep on looking for ways to achieve better outcomes, with faith at the heart of every effort.”