By: Jacqueline McKnight
Post by Jacqueline McKnight, Susan G. Komen Scientific Programs Specialist
Since 1982, Komen has played a critical role in many advances in the fight against breast cancer – transforming how the world talks about and treats this disease and helping to turn millions of breast cancer patients into breast cancer survivors.
With that in mind, last week I had the privilege of attending the 7th Biennial Cancer Survivorship Research Conference in Atlanta, GA, which garnered over 500 attendees from at least 32 countries around the world.
When you enter the “cancer world,” particularly by way of employment, you begin to see the same people over and over at conferences and meetings, so as I looked around, I started taking a mental inventory, “There isKomen Scientific Advisory Board member Dr. Amelie Ramirez . There is Kathy LaTour, editor at large for Cure Magazine. There are Komen Scholars, Drs. Ann Partridgeand Patricia Ganz.”
As I studied the attendees at the various sessions, I realized that the attendance was nearly 90 percent women. Many had been tasked with implementing survivorship programs at their hospitals. The idea of a survivorship program is so new that the variety and depth of these programs vary greatly. One young woman from Oregon was a physician’s assistant, and had only recently begun survivorship appointments with oncology patients once or twice once they’ve finished their treatment. I believe that the conference opened her eyes to the complex and ongoing needs of these survivors, most of whom will need more than one or two follow up appointments if they are to receive comprehensive survivorship care.
Another young woman has developed, over the past two years, a program that follows survivors beginning in the middle of their cancer care so that survivorship services and staff are not new to them as they matriculate out of treatment. She helps patients with navigating insurance claims, she discusses and advises on everything from financial burden to sexual side effects and follow up care. I was impressed with the comprehensive nature of the program, and I knew this young woman would be successful with her survivorship program when she told me that survivorship care plans are great, but that people in the field are so focused on the plan that they often overlook the needs of the patient.
One of the major tenets of the meeting was that just as medicine is becoming more and more personalized, so must survivorship care. This young woman had already recognized and acknowledged the unique needs of every patient.
This patient-centered focus is exactly what leaders like Ramirez, Stovall and Ganz encourage and foster in others. The outstanding research presented by an impressive array of panelists on how to engage patients in self-advocacy, how to reduce barriers for the underserved, the value of cohort studies and other sessions were all interesting and valuable. However, for the attendees, most of whom care for patients, the most valuable part of the conference had to be the opportunity to interact with all of the seasoned, passionate, powerful female leaders in the cancer care world. These young women represent the next generation of caregivers and they are the people holding the hands, hearts and hopes of the 14.5 million (and growing) cancer survivors in the United States today. It is important that they receive the best mentorship possible and they certainly did at this meeting.
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