For Medical Assistant-Turned-Breast Cancer Patient, Colleague Becomes Caregiver

The first time they met, in the break room at work, Raunada Bryant remembers struggling with her heavy Southern accent to pronounce Kristen Donoghue’s first name. Giving up with a laugh, she took to calling her new colleague “K” — not knowing the critical role they would soon play in each other’s lives.

Donoghue was a seasoned oncology nurse, and Bryant a traveling certified medical assistant on a three-month contract assignment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute – Chestnut Hill. Far from her family back in Shreveport, Louisiana, Bryant relied on Donoghue to help show her the ropes, and the two became fast friends.

So when Bryant learned in March 2021 that she had breast cancer, and decided to stay in Massachusetts for treatment, she knew right away who she wanted to be her infusion nurse: Coworker K.

“Of course I wanted to fight this with her,” says Donoghue, looking at Bryant. “I was honored she asked me, and I told her, ‘We’re going to get through this. I’ll be there every step of the way.’”

Hearing this, Bryant smiles.

“She definitely has been,” she says.

Kristen Donoghue (left) and Raunada Bryant at Fenway Park.

Finding new family

It was another friend that initially led to Bryant working at Dana-Farber.

“It was my first time applying with a travel agency to work as a medical assistant, and I only chose Boston because my best friend and I were able to travel here together,” Bryant explains. “I didn’t have to go alone.”

Bryant enjoyed the job and her coworkers at Dana-Farber – Chestnut Hill, a multidisciplinary hospital facility located in Newton, Mass., a few miles from Dana-Farber’s Boston campus in the Longwood Medical Area. So even though she missed southern cooking, riding horses, and her loved ones back home — as well as her daughter in Texas — she said yes in February when her supervisor asked if she wanted to extend her contract through July.

It would prove a very important decision. On March 8, while lying in bed, Bryant reached over to get something off her nightstand and felt a nodule on her left breast. She had an ultrasound and mammogram within 24 hours, and on March 25 learned she had breast cancer.

“I probably cried for about two weeks, but after that my coworkers really became my family, like a family I’ve never had,” Bryant explains. “This has been a testimony and a journey.”

A journey that Donoghue has taken along with her, both by administering Bryant’s chemotherapy at Dana-Farber – Chestnut Hill and by remaining a mentor in their working relationship at the same venue.

“From day one, in and outside of treatment, she was my go-to person,” says Bryant. “Something would happen, and I’d say, ‘K, I need to ask you about this.’”

Bryant and Donoghue.

Paths to cross again

Donoghue says that Bryant “makes it easy to love her” as a patient and coworker due to her vivaciousness and easy-going demeanor.

“She pushed through this like no other person I’ve ever met,” says Donoghue. “Raunada is the kind of person who makes friends wherever she goes, and I am so happy that our paths crossed.”

Bryant feels the same way, and not just about Donoghue. She’s filled five scrapbooks with photos from each step of her cancer treatment, so that her family at home can see everything she’s been through with her “new family” in Boston.

And even though Bryant will be leaving her current home when her contract expires on Oct. 15, she will be able to cross paths again with Donoghue each 9 to 12 weeks when she comes back to Dana-Farber – Chestnut Hill for follow-up appointments related to her breast cancer. She has also invited Donoghue to visit her wherever she winds up on her next work assignment.

 “Wherever she is, I’d go,” says Donoghue. “I plan to continue this friendship.”

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