Randy Schlafer, CMA (AAMA), cared for cancer patients for a month at a time, often during the most difficult periods of their lives. At the Karmanos Cancer Center at the Detroit Medical Center, bone marrow and stem cell transplant patients go through extensive chemotherapy followed by whole-body radiation for seven days to weaken the immune system in preparation for their transplant. They then stay at the facility for three weeks of recovery.

“Basically they are like an infant without any immunity,” says Schlafer, so staff help them along the road back to health. “During this time, I was able to make real connections with patients and their families.”

For more than two years, that is exactly what Schlafer did. In addition to taking vital signs, tracking daily weights, nutrition intake and outtake, and performing electrocardiograms, blood draws, and IV starts when needed, he says his favorite role was acting as a listening ear.

“Anyone can do the task, but if you can’t communicate with patients and comfort them when needed, or be tough when needed, then it’s not worth it,” says Schlafer. “I’m not their doctor or family, so they can tell me they’re scared or mad when the doors close, and no one knows about it. That’s how I’ve made great bonds.” 

He makes it his goal to keep patients comfortable and take their minds off their condition. “When someone walks into this building that has ‘Cancer Center’ written on the top of it, anxiety often sets in,” says Schlafer. “I tell patients that … if they have to come, it’s the best place to be.”

Schlafer often achieves his goal. He recalls a man who drove to the center from a town about three hours away. “During his monthlong stay, his wife would stay for 10 days at a time and then go home to regroup and come back. I talked to both of them a lot,” he says. “The man was discharged but came back after his cancer relapsed. At that point, he ended up here for 113 days. The prognosis didn’t look good, and so we asked if he wanted to spend his last days at home. He said, ‘I want this to be my last stop. Everyone here has made a difference to me, and my wife feels the same.’” 

For all his efforts, the Karmanos Cancer Center awarded Schlafer two Starfish Awards, given to medical staff who receive positive comments from patients and colleagues. He also received an award for his dedication to excellent patient care and customer service. 

“This was an honor and a privilege to receive, as it’s given to the one person with the most personally named favorable comments from patients on their surveys sent to them after their discharge,” said Schlafer.

Today, Schlafer continues to make a difference at the Cancer Center, except now he has taken a role in ambulatory care, where he works with 12 providers who treat 250 patients daily for lung, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, and head and neck cancers. “We have a state-of-the-art UroNav System that will take an MRI and fuse it together with the live ultrasound to target the region of interest when taking a biopsy of the prostate. It’s amazing to be part of an environment that continuously strives to improve patients’ lives.”