A Mother-Daughter Journey in Cancer Registry

Avatar photo

Laura Ferringer

Associate Oncology Data Specialist

Who really knew what their parents did at their job growing up? All I knew was that my mom pushed a pedal on the floor, listened to a doctor talk and typed what they said. I have memories of hearing typing and hearing the very fast clickety clack of her keyboard. She was a Medical Transcriptionist and worked from home before it was the norm. In 1998, she went to work at our local cancer center as a transcriptionist. In 2021, one of the Cancer Registrars was retiring so she applied for the position without knowing what the job was. She needed two years of on-the-job training in order to qualify for the exam as there wasn’t a curriculum in place like we have now. She passed the CTR exam in 2004 and decided to return to school to earn her associates degree and sit for her RHIT certification, which she obtained in 2004. This was all going on at the same time I was graduating high school and going off to college. I had no clue how hard she was working to better herself and advance in her career. If I was asked what my mom did for a living all I could say was “She’s a Certified Tumor Registrar.” Then would come the question we all have heard a time or two, “What’s that?” My answer was some sort of a bumbling combination of the words “cancer” and “coding” because I honestly had no clue what she did.

After I graduated college, I was a lost 22-year-old with no idea what direction I wanted my life to go. Through a series of events, I ended up working on the oncology unit at our local hospital as a Nurse Extender. I quickly realized I was on the wrong end of the patient journey, having to witness patients come to the unit to receive end of life care. I knew I needed to make an impact in the world of cancer care but the clinical setting was not for me. My Mom’s former boss from the cancer center was working for the American Cancer Society and she called my mom and asked if she knew anyone who could fill a temp position at the American Cancer Society office. I was lucky enough to be given that temp position, which turned into a full-time job for the next several years. I didn’t know it at the time, but that job was the start of my trajectory into the registry world. After a few years, my calling in life shifted to be at home with my two boys, but I continued to volunteer with the American Cancer Society over the next few years. When the boys got into school, I began to feel the urge to get back into the workforce. I explored a few different health care options, all the while a little birdie in the shape of a mother kept saying “you should look into cancer registry.” I was very resistant to it, not even knowing what IT was. Eventually I decided to do some research about the career. I remember asking my mom what she liked most about the job and she said she is making a difference in the care of cancer patients by collecting data. I finally made the decision to listen to my mom because you know what they say, “Mother knows best.” I started school at Santa Barbara City College in 2018. If you know my mom, I asked her how many times I called her in tears. She would tell me to stop crying and coach me through it. I graduated in December 2020, landed my first job at a local hospital registry in February 2021 and passed the CTR exam in March 2021. I could not have done any of that without the support of my mom. Now here we are, both working for Registry Partners at the same time. Being in this career with her has been so much fun, as we can attend state meetings together and even ventured to NCRA in Washington DC.

I get told all of the time how lucky I am to not only have Theresa as my mentor but as my Mother, and let me just say I know I am beyond lucky! She could be juggling ten balls in the air and will find the time to answer a question I have. She never makes me feel like I’m asking a dumb question and never gets frustrated with me for asking the same question more than once. She has shown me so much patience throughout my schooling and career. Not to be biased or anything but she is the best CTR I know and an even greater Mother. Her love for her family is immeasurable. She would give you the shirt off her back if you needed it. She is the true definition of a Mother. If you know Theresa Real, consider yourself lucky. I sure do!