The three people profiled here are dedicated to supporting patients wherever they may be on their cancer journey. We hope these stories help you connect to members of the Christus St. Vincent cancer-care staff you may see regularly in Santa Fe, and meet one man doing important work behind the scenes. Their compassion and commitment to their challenging careers inspire us.

Photos by Luis Sánchez Saturno

These interactions make the job, she said, and it extends to the staff as they help create a family atmosphere and keep the environment bright with such team activities as potlucks, themed dress-up days, Secret Santa exchanges and office decorations for holidays.

“This office isn’t gloom and doom,” she said. “We joke and have fun with the patients and each other.”

She said they want patients to feel good in the office and feel empowered when they leave. A lot of Porter’s time is spent answering questions, or directing patients to people who can get them answered. She recommends patients and caregivers write down questions as they come up, so they don’t keep worrying about an unknown and can address their questions at their next appointment.

“I want them to know they could ask about anything with their care and feel seen and heard and not feel rushed in the appointment,” she said.

Reflecting on the years behind her and the years to come, she said it’s rewarding to see tangible progress.

“The changes in cancer care in the last 15 years have just been remarkable and are so exciting,” Porter said. “We’re able to treat more patients and have patients feel better during treatment.”

Pena arranges physician-to-physician calls when needed, and steers patients to the center’s financial aid counselor or helps them apply directly to manufacturers for medicine if other financial support isn’t available — an extra step that isn’t part of his regular job description. “If I’ve gotten an approval, then I’ve done the best thing I can for a patient. That’s what matters to me,” he said.

“I always ask myself, ‘If it’s not me, then who?’ And usually my answer is me.”

Over the years, he has seen his work evolve from sending tedious faxes to visiting complex online portals, as coworkers have come and gone. It’s tough to keep employees in that position over the long-term, he said.

Sena, 47, is friendly and laughs easily. It’s easy to picture him processing claims patiently,

Julian Sena but he is serious when he says his job also involves fighting. “When [insurers] sit on an authorization and a patient is waiting to get treated, I get upset,” he said. “If it was you, you’d want to be treated as soon as possible. I always try to put myself in their shoes, so everything is ASAP.”

In Sena’s 20-year healthcare career, he’s worked in patient registration, code scrubbing [confirming that medical codes match a diagnosis] and appointment scheduling before settling into processing authorizations full time.

His final choice was personal. When his mother-in-law died of cancer, she became a driving force behind his passion for helping cancer patients.

“Watching her go through it was pretty heartbreaking, said Sena. “I wanted to make sure everything that was done for her gets passed forward to other people — that’s why I make sure everything goes through smoothly for every single person who comes through that door.”

His mother-in-law wasn’t the only influence on Sena’s career choice. He gravitated toward health after helping care for his mother during an illness — the reason he left college and returned to his hometown of Santa Fe. From his dad, who suffered from military-related PTSD, he developed compassion for the veterans he sees in the cancer center.

And if he hadn’t met his wife Maria, he would have joined the Marines and left town once his mom’s health stabilized. He thinks about the different life he might have led, one without his two sons, who work at the hospital, and his 15-year-old daughter.

“I guess God intervened,” he said with a laugh.

By Elayne Smith Lowe

Renee Jimenez is the voice on the other end of the line when calling to schedule an appointment at Christus St. Vincent Regional Cancer Center.

She’s the mastermind who connects patients with providers. And she’s the face patients often look for when they arrive at or leave the center.

Most of all, she’s someone who is as quick to share a smile as to offer a hug. She asks patients about their days and their dogs, and means it when she tells people to call or stop by if they’re having a bad day.

“The interaction with the patient is my favorite [part of the job],” Jimenez said. “It’s sad for what we have to do, but it’s enjoyable learning from them and trying to support them every day.”

This will be Jimenez’s eighth year as the oncology scheduling coordinator at the cancer center. She previously worked in the hospital kitchen, but left to take on a more people-focused role.

While she’s no longer working in a commercial kitchen, Jimenez, 39, still loves to cook, spending her off-hours experimenting with different recipes or trying to master a perfectly cooked steak. Unlike the fast-moving kitchen environment, she said, the clinic often requires a slower pace and lots of patience as she juggles different schedules.

“It’s kind of like playing Tetris [the puzzle video game],” Jimenez said. “You’ve got to make sure this or that fits.”

She tries to ensure the center’s cancer patients are seen as quickly as possible for biopsies or scans, since timelines can be critical for some people. “I don’t usually take no for an answer, and they [the providers] understand it’s urgent,” she said.

Jimenez steps back from the stressful demands of the job, unwinding from the many phone calls she makes in a day by chatting with other commuters and relaxing during the train ride from Santa Fe to the home she shares with her husband in Los Lunas. Being with her three dogs, cooking or going to the shooting range also help take her mind off the more challenging aspects of her work.

“It is very sad when we lose the patients that we’ve grown to know and enjoy,” she said. “They’re never forgotten.”

Renee Jimenez

The Journey





Santa Fe New Mexican