A work-life balance is not a trait Anne Willis values much in a career. After all, when you're a cancer survivor working in the field of cancer survivorship, the concept doesn't really apply.
"Other people can leave their jobs when they go home, but for me, this stuff is so personal," says Willis, a 14-year cancer survivor and the new director of GWCI's Division of Cancer Survivorship. "Cancer is so much a part of who I am and what I do that even if the line gets blurred, it doesn't really matter because I like what I'm doing so much."
Willis, who was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma at age 15, was one of the first patients in the GWCI Thriving After Cancer (TAC) Program's clinic that launched in Fall 2010. At the time, she was working at the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.
Her positive experience with the TAC program in addition to her personal and professional background made Willis the perfect candidate to direct GWCI's Division of Cancer Survivorship.
"I don't think I would be doing what I'm doing now if I didn't have the cancer experience, and I don't think I would be successful," she says. "The experience really helps me figure out what we need to be doing and to connect with the people we are serving."
Since assuming the position in the Spring of 2011, Willis has shaped the division into a robust and multi-faceted program. She has led her team to enhance services and educational opportunities for TAC patients to address their ongoing needs, and develop classes for the broader community that prepare cancer patients for life after treatment.
"My goal is to identify the biggest challenges for our patient population and to create programs and educational opportunities that address those key topics," she explains.
Willis, who is co-director of GWCI's Center for the Advancement of Cancer Survivorship, Navigation and Policy, also anticipates making a national impact through the center's unique executive training courses on navigation and survivorship. Because the Commission on Cancer will introduce new requirements for accreditation this year, many centers across the country will be looking to GWCI for guidance, she says.
"We have an incredible opportunity to train professionals to create these patient-centered programs," believes Willis.
Willis is also committed to advancing the work of the National Cancer Survivorship Resource Center, a collaboration with the American Cancer Society through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that focuses on identifying barriers in survivorship care, generating policy recommendations, and implementing improvement strategies. So far, the Center is in the process of writing white papers to educate policy makers, creating resources for cancer survivors, and developing post-treatment resources and guidance for health care providers.
"Working at the Institute is exciting because everybody here is really dedicated to fighting cancer," says Willis. "There's a lot of support for survivorship here, so the environment is welcoming and collaborative."