On an icy day in January a diverse group of female veterans – eight in all – braved the elements to attend the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) for the hospital’s first-ever Breast Cancer Support Group gathering.
Duke breast surgical oncologist Oluwadamilola “Lola” Fayanju, MD, MA, MPHS, who also serves as chief of breast surgery and director of the Breast Clinic at the Durham VAMC, founded the group and facilitated the meeting. Seven months later the monthly support group is still going strong.
“Having the opportunity to provide a breast cancer support group where female veterans can come and talk about their challenges, their successes, where they are in their treatment and where they are in their survivorship has been very powerful and very well received,” said Fayanju.
Fayanju, who has clinic hours at the VA every other Friday, makes it a point to see each new clinic patient. In addition to patients requiring surgery, she also follows high-risk patients and manages benign breast disease for the hundreds of female and male veterans who are clinic patients.
Lakeesha Puryear, RN, the care manager at the Durham VAMC Breast Clinic said that Fayanju’s connection with Duke “really helps.”
“We benefit from the education and clinical expertise she provides,” Puryear added. “She helps us make sure that our patients get access to as many resources as they can.”
Fayanju joined the Durham VAMC and the breast cancer surgery group at Duke Cancer Institute in August 2016, following a breast surgical oncology fellowship at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. She completed her residency in general surgery at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine in 2015 where she also received both her medical degree and a master of population health sciences.
At Duke, Fayanju is the surgical lead for the Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) clinic, which offers a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to the management of this challenging condition. She has a research interest in biologically aggressive breast cancers such as inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), metaplastic breast cancer, triple-negative breast cancer, and lobular breast cancer, all of which, she said, “have poorer prognoses than other forms of the disease and, in some cases, are disproportionately found among women of color and also among women with lower socioeconomic status.”
Fayanju has long been committed, in her research and clinical work, to educating and raising awareness about diversity, inclusion, bias and healthcare disparities. She’s been recognized with two Conquer Cancer Merit Awards from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
Last year she was awarded a Duke CTSA KL2 Career Development Award to support her research into disparities in breast cancer outcome and treatment, with the goal of improving the quality and efficiency of breast cancer care delivery for all patients.
As part of Fayanju’s award, she’s been conducting focus groups with Duke breast cancer patients to better understand barriers to care. While non-Hispanic white women have higher incidence of breast cancer, black women are more likely to be diagnosed before 40 and more likely to die from breast cancer at every age.
At the end of 2017, Fayanju founded the Women’s Health Community Engagement Task Force (based at Duke) for medically underserved patients with breast disease. The initiative — in the working group phase — has since expanded more broadly to women’s health, involving colleagues from across the Duke University Health System and partners in the local community.
Fayanju is also working with the Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham and the Durham Department of Public Health to facilitate breast and women’s health referrals to Duke. And she’s in contact with various agencies in North Carolina to improve enrollment in and awareness of the North Carolina Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (NC BCCCP), which provides free or low-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings.
“While a majority of breast cancer patients do well, I am concerned about the women who systematically do poorly after a diagnosis of breast cancer,” said Fayanju. “I hope to make the world-class care that’s available to some breast cancer patients available to all breast cancer patients, no matter their racial or ethnic background, socioeconomic status, particular breast cancer type, or whether they receive their care at an academic medical center like Duke or the VA.”