Hundreds of patients, caregivers, survivors and loved ones attended Duke Cancer Institute’s annual Supportive Care and Survivorship Day held in two locations on two different days — at Duke Raleigh Cancer Center on June 5 and at Duke Cancer Center in Durham on June 6.
More than 300 total visitors (287 for the all-day event in Durham and 50 for the half-day event in Raleigh) registered on site and dozens more stopped by. They came for complimentary makeovers, skin consultations, hair trimming, wig styling, scarf tying and massage therapy. Attendees also tried out gentle yoga, tai chi, and guided meditation, and picked up tips on simple, healthy cooking.
Educational booths connected them with a variety of Duke and DCI supportive care services (orthotic and prosthetic care, health and fitness, physical and occupational therapy, family therapy, nutrition, sexual health services, spiritual services, integrative medicine, arts and health, psychology, teen and young adult oncology, smoking cessation, social work, financial navigation, legal services, and more) as well as with community resources for survivorship.
“We’re just so glad that you’re here and joined us today for this annual celebration,” said deputy director of Duke Cancer Institute Steven Patierno, kicking off a public forum on survivorship with DCI experts Kevin Oeffinger, MD; Cheyenne Corbett, PhD, LMFT; Thomas Polascik, MD; and Kelly Westbrook, MD. “This is our way to celebrate life and to celebrate survivorship, which includes people who are in active treatment.”
Patierno pointed to the rising numbers of cancer survivors in the U.S. — now 15 million — as an indication that the war on cancer is being won, while also acknowledging that cancer “can be a challenging journey and a tragic journey.”
“We never dreamed even a decade ago or five years ago that we would see a number like that,” Patierno continued. “We are seeing more and more people be cured of their disease, and more and more people are having their disease managed in a way that they can live long and healthy lives.”
The panel, which had solicited questions from audience members in advance, was asked what suggestions they had about lifestyle changes to help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and cancer death.
Oeffinger, a family physician who directs both the DCI Supportive Care & Survivorship Center and the DCI Center for Onco-Primary Care, pointed to the importance of diet and activity (both aerobic and resistance exercises) in fighting cancer and cancer recurrence and staying healthy overall. He and the other panelists stressed the importance of including primary care physicians in the management team of cancer patients — those on active cancer therapy and those who’ve completed therapy — so that their cancer-related and unrelated health concerns, especially blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, don’t fall through the cracks.
The panel also answered questions about the sexual and cognitive side-effects of cancer treatment.
“Sexual health is a huge issue among all cancer types and comes up in the top five or top 10 concerns on almost every survivorship survey that’s administered,” said Westbrook, a breast oncologist, primarily focused on quality-of-life and survivorship, who launched DCI’s first sexual health clinic. “Changes in sexual health are a very common side-effect of cancer diagnosis and treatment. There are so many factors that play into sexual health; from psychosocial components such as anxiety and depression to the various physical side-effects of treatment.”
Westbrook said progress was being made at Duke on coaching providers (oncologists and primary care physicians) on how to be more cognizant of this issue, and noted that “difficult” scientific research on how to fix the problem was ongoing. To that end, she said that DCI will host the The Scientific Network on Female Sexual Health and Cancer annual conference in September.
Polascik, a urologic surgeon and director of the urologic oncology fellowship program, addressed potential solutions for the sexual dysfunction and incontinence side-effects particular to prostate cancer.
“Most men are looking for the triple outcome; they want to be cured of cancer, they want to be able to retain their urine and have control over it and also to have erections on demand,” he said, going on to detail some breakthroughs in prostate cancer treatment in the last five to 10 years that are helping to realize these outcomes.
Research is also being conducted at Duke on the cognitive side effects from chemotherapy (“chemo brain”), hormone therapy (commonly used in breast and prostate cancer), and other treatments, said Westbrook, and how to mitigate these side-effects, including identifying those at high risk before treatment starts.
Corbett, a licensed marriage and family therapist whose area of clinical expertise is in the psycho-social care of patients diagnosed with cancer, said that there were psychologists available to do a first-line screening for cognitive impairment when someone identified that as a challenge.
“We’ve found that in about 70 percent of people, the cognitive changes that they’re experiencing are related to stress, fatigue or other treatment-related side-effects,” she said, “and for the 30 percent of those we screen who do seem like they need more comprehensive neuro-psych testing, we can also provide that.”
From the physical, to the psycho-social, to the practical concerns of cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones, Corbett said that DCI is there for them.
“We know personally and professionally the impact that cancer diagnosis and treatment can have,” she said. “We really have a lot of resources to help with challenges that they and their loved ones may experience and can answer their questions.”
Looking to the future, Oeffinger said that while survivorship has mainly been focused on cancer rehabilitiation — a coordinated way of helping survivors cope with the near and late term physical and psychosocial side-effects of cancer — DCI plans to unfold a coordinated “pre-habilitation” approach in the next three-to-five years. He explained that this means looking at what can be done right at the start, before therapy is initiated, to help prevent some of the side-effects that may occur.
CIRCLE PHOTO (top) and FRONT OF BLOG: After a two-year battle with breast cancer, Cindy Truesdale, of Kannapolis, NC, was declared cancer-free one year ago. She celebrated by attending Supportive Care & Survivorship Day event at Duke Cancer Center in Durham.