A Life-Changing Honor for One Who Supports Cancer Patients
One in an ongoing series
It has taken months for AnnaMarie Castaneda to get used to the fact that she received a $20,000 prize in honor of her work at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery.
“I was pretty much in shock,” says Castaneda of the day in October she was named a winner of the Korman Family Prize for Excellence in the Delivery of Health Care. “I was shaking and crying for a while.”
It was a windfall for a single mother who hardly grew up in luxury. She literally kept the check under her pillow for more than a month, often looking to make sure it was still there.
Slowly, Castaneda grew accustomed to being rewarded for the work ethic, commitment and cheerful good will she displays as clinical site supervisor for the hospital’s Department of Medical Oncology and Hematology.
And she came to see it as a gift not only for her, but for her 12-year-old daughter, who’s the centerpiece of her life.
“She’s my best friend,” she says of Kylyn Sky. “She’s everything to me. She’s the person who pushes me to do better. She keeps me grounded.”
They hike together. Play video games together. Go shopping together. And they’re both obsessed with Harry Potter.
“We read all the books more than once,” Castaneda says. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen Harry Potter movies.”
Sometimes they’ll have a Harry Potter weekend. “We grocery shop on Thursday, we get pizza and we binge watch.”
A Mother-Daughter Trip
Which is why Castaneda made a decision to use part of her award money to take Kylyn to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios in Florida over the Christmas holidays.
“This trip never would have happened if it wasn’t for the prize money,” she says. “I am a very strict person when it comes to spending.”
“To be able to take my daughter and experience this is a dream come true for her and for me,” Castaneda says. “I love creating experiences and memories for her to have when she grows up.”
In many ways, Castaneda’s daughter makes it possible for her to endure the emotional stress of working with patients who are so ill.
When she has tough days at work – when cancer patients she’s become attached to don’t make it – “I go home to my daughter. She’s kind of my distraction.”
The patients in the oncology and hematology practice range in age from 20 to 96, and all have either cancer or a blood disorder.
Strength in a Stressful Field
“Oncology is a very difficult specialty,” Castaneda says, recalling that she wept and was distraught after her first experience losing a patient, during a rotation in clinical training to become a medical assistant.
“I was wondering whether I was mentally fit for this job,” she says. “The doc pulled me aside and supported me through it. He said, ‘We need more people like you because your personality is so happy and the staff appreciates you.’ I felt like that incident made me really strong.”
The staff at Einstein Montgomery has the same appreciation for Castaneda, whose job is administrative and clinical. She handles coding and billing, regularly appeals to insurance companies when they deny coverage, and jumps in when the office is short-staffed to do clinical work.
“I know its silly to think coding and billing is a job you love, but I honestly enjoy and love doing it,” she says. Castaneda also explores ways to make the office run more smoothly, and helped initiate a new case flow that is more efficient.
The Korman family prize was created by long-time Einstein benefactors Berton and Sallie Korman to honor two employees a year who “best represent the qualities found in Einstein Montgomery’s five pillars: quality, service, academics, finance and people,” says Beth Duffy, Chief Operating Officer of Einstein Medical Center Montgomery.
Castaneda was nominated by Marc Schaller, Associate Vice President of Healthcare Services, who said, “AnnaMarie clearly impacts patients and families (and colleagues) on so many levels – whether it’s making them comfortable for a patient visit, scheduling future appointments and addressing any questions, or answering the questions that may be associated with an insurance bill, AnnaMarie does it all with such compassion and authenticity.”
The prize has been life-changing for Castaneda. With the Harry Potter dream trip now a cherished memory, she will continue on her quest to find a home to buy for her and Kylyn.
“The Korman Prize was the best thing that could happen for me and my daughter,” Castaneda says. “I will put it towards something that can change Kylyn’s life in many great ways.”
Photo: AnnaMarie Castaneda with daughter Kylyn Sky Fair-Judson, holding Izzy.