"When I was in school, the idea that I would some day be a nurse would have seemed surreal," she said. "I graduated with a degree in English and Journalism and I always thought I would do something in the field of writing. But three things changed my life."
First, she started writing for Covenant House, a shelter in Times Square for runaway teens who turned to prostitution for survival. Then, she cared for her father when he was diagnosed with cancer. Finally, she became a hospice volunteer. She was surprised that she liked the tangible aspect of the work.
"During my years in parochial school, the nuns taught us the Corporal Works of Mercy. One of them is 'to care for the sick.' I was moved to do something hands-on, or corporal, to alleviate suffering if I could, and that's why I became a nurse."
So off to nursing school she went, graduating from Columbia University in 1985. After receiving her degree, she worked at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Then, she and a friend decided to leave the Big Apple for an adventure in Seattle.
"We thought we would be gone for a year and then return to New York. All these years later, we are still here. Seattle casts a spell," she said.
She started at Fred Hutch when most of our patients were transplanted at Swedish Hospital. Today, she is part of a new LTFU team at SCCA, the Transitional Transplant Clinic.
"This is the first team created in a long time," she said. "These patients have graduated from their intense-care teams, but still need complex care from us.
"It's a gift to work in this field. Not everyone has this perspective in their work. For example, I have police officers in my family, and unfortunately, police officers see the worst of humanity day after day. It can color their view of our species.
"But working here in oncology, getting to know patients and their caregivers, I see the very best of humanity every day. Our patients face each day saying, 'I'm going to fight for my life.' And their caregivers do whatever it takes to fight with them.
"As a nurse, to witness this kind of selfless, intrepid love and optimism is a precious gift. From a philosophical view, it convinced me long ago that human beings are basically good. We are meant to give ourselves to others, she said.
With her daughter now in college, Joanne said she is pursuing other interests that are important to her.
"I'm very interested in how we will decide, as a society, to pay for health care. I see more of the financial impact on patients now, and I feel the need to get involved—to become more of an advocate for the rights of patients everywhere," she said.
It may not be listed as a work of mercy, but Joanne knows in her heart that it's the right thing to do.