A Closer Look
Anne Washburn leads the education, advocacy, community outreach and wellness activities that help cancer patients and their families
November 21, 2013
This fall, Anne Washburn and her sister Rachel ran a half marathon in memory of their mother Sharon, who died from pancreatic cancer 25 years ago.
“I know 25 years is just a number, but it’s a time of reflection. I’m turning 46 and that’s as long as her life was. I think how thankful I am and how proud she would be. I’m beyond fortunate with all the opportunities I’ve been given,” said Washburn, who is associate director for Community Outreach, Education and Affiliations at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.
It was 25 years ago, when Washburn was on the University of Tennessee campus reeling with the death of her mother, that she knew that she would not be a pharmacist as planned.
“I was totally inspired to direct my life after she passed away. I remember walking to class one day, just in a daze. I was so struck by my family not receiving any resources during her illness. We didn’t receive any support or information about cancer or what it meant to be losing a parent. I thought I’ve got to do something.”
She started her master’s in public health at UT, and a required internship placed her at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for a health communications fellowship. After earning her degree she took a leap of faith in a one-year position at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center to start a patient education program. That one year turned into eight as Washburn discovered her strengths.
“I love bringing people together and working toward goals and initiatives across the care continuum. Not a day has gone by that I don’t think about how helpless I felt during my own mom’s illness and how we can prevent that with patients and families today.”
In 2004, Washburn was recruited to VICC to lead the Office of Patient and Community Education. Nine years later, it is a robust team of experts who plan education, advocacy, community outreach and wellness activities.
“We look at the cancer care continuum, assessing what the needs are and figuring out what we can do to educate the community to prevent cancer or help assess their cancer risk. We also focus on programming that addresses the education and support needs of people diagnosed with cancer and their families.”
One of Washburn’s favorite initiatives is the Vanderbilt Cancer Wellness Program, which promotes health and well-being for people affected by cancer with services including rehabilitation, fitness and gentle movement classes, tobacco cessation, nutrition coaching and survivorship.
“I see it as an honor to bring all the experts together to lead those efforts that address the whole person. I’ll look around the table at some really brilliant colleagues, but I’m most struck by their spirit and how much they want to make a difference.”
Washburn recently added new responsibilities to provide administrative leadership to enhance cancer care, research and education opportunities to affiliates statewide. She says VICC values the opportunity to align with other cancer-related organizations and hospital systems.
“As we help bring together the expertise internally, we recognize the value of strong community partnerships. We always want to leverage our resources without duplicating services. We know we’re stronger when we’re all together.”
Washburn is on the board of directors for Linda’s Hope, a pancreatic cancer organization, and Women Rock for the Cure, a group focused on the needs of young women with breast cancer. She’s also a hobby photographer and relishes being an aunt to four nieces and one nephew ranging in age from 8-18.
“My nieces joke that Aunt Anne has a lot of teachable moments, but I always tell them when you’re given so much goodness, you have to give something back.”
– by Leslie Hill
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