A Conversation with Wendy Anderson | See previous interviews

Wendy Anderson
Assistant Clinical Professor

Wendy Anderson

It’s already the holiday season! Where and how will your family celebrate?  What is your favorite carol?

For Thanksgiving, we’ll visit my husband’s family in Kansas where everyone lives within a one-mile radius of one another so we’ll see everyone at once. I will probably remember a favorite Christmas carol when I start singing them with my daughter again. I used to play lots of carols on my violin and I also played cello but now it mostly sits in the closet.

Of all of the Medicine subspecialties, what drew you to Palliative Care?

My grandfather had prostate cancer during the time when I was applying to medical school and studying biochemistry as an undergrad. He was very intellectual and interested in the biochemistry of his cancer. When he became really sick in the hospital, he ended up going home with hospice. My mom, my uncles, and I took care of him, and it was very intimidating because there was so much we didn’t know: how to give a bed bath, care for him when he was agitated, the many pain meds, and so much more. One particular hospice nurse, within thirty minutes, empowered us to do what he wanted, which was to be cared for at home. Now, as a health care provider, I am allowed into this very intimate place in people’s lives and it is a privilege to be allowed, around death, to be part of how people love and take care of one another.

Who takes care of you, the caregiver, and how?

Our Palliative Care Service takes care of all of us, particularly our social worker, and our spiritual care provider. Our work can sometimes be hard, so it’s important to have a support system that understands the situations you’re encountering and how they make you feel. It is also important to realize that there are some things I cannot fix and to let go.

Did you have a childhood nickname, and did you love or hate it?

I don’t think I had one!

Communication is, I believe, an important focus in your professional life. Which non-verbal tools do you find yourself innately good at or most important?

Something that is really helpful to me, when talking with people, is learning not to always use words. I think silence and just listening are powerful tools. However, sometimes they can be misinterpreted so small acknowledgements are very likely to help get a message of empathy across. I had mentors during my training that changed the way that I think about my relationships with people; what was transformative for me was the idea of not trying to dictate what someone should have or needs, but taking cues from them and then providing the information they need to achieve their goals. With that comes truly being interested in who people are, being curious about what they want to accomplish, and how you can help them. The work is constantly to come to a shared decision or shared understanding and that means not giving up on a relationship.

If you could interview your great-grandmother, what would you ask her?

My background is Welsh on my Dad’s side; he was a cattle rancher and his grandmother was Native American. My Mom’s family is from Ireland and I would want to interview my maternal great-great grandmother. Her name was Nanny and she was a seamstress here in San Francisco and tailored ladies’ dresses at all the high-end department stores. She also took care of everything around the house, my mom, and her siblings. I would probably just ask her how she did it!

Can you define what to you is spiritual sustenance? From where do you draw inspiration?

I am a Buddhist and my practice provides spiritual sustenance; I have meditated since medical school. For me, that training is where inspiration comes from when I’m tired or frustrated; it’s a reminder to not give up on things and to remain cheerful.

Are you a good driver? What is your worst driving habit? What might you do that could drive another driver crazy?

Since having kids, I have become a “granny driver.” My worst driving habit is driving too slowly.

What once-treasured object do you regret having discarded?

I don’t know that I’ve discarded anything. I keep everything including all of my old teddy bears. They’re very sad and very mangy-looking.

If you were to leave a message in a bottle and toss it into San Francisco Bay, what might it say?

Do you know the people who swim in the bay from Alcatraz? I think it’s amazing that people would do that on purpose, especially since Alcatraz was built to keep people on the island. My message, hoping that one of those swimmers might find it, would be, “GO, GO, GO!”

Will you make a New Years’ Resolution and, if so, what might it be?

I think that I would like to resolve to be sure that I am there while my kids are little, both physically and mentally. Having another baby made me realize how quickly they grow up—it’s amazing, and I sometimes feel that I really don’t remember anything much about the past three years. I would like to remain cheerful and patient despite the things that drive parents nuts, like the fact that it seemingly takes five years to get dressed or an hour to get ready for bed, so I can either be frustrated or enjoy the tussles!

Thank you, Wendy. Happy Holidays to you and yours.

- by Oralia Schatzman

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