LC Newly Diagnosed Archives

Your lung cancer diagnosis is just a starting point. Even though the path ahead may seem unclear or even insurmountable, armed with knowledge you can take control.

Let us help you become empowered to understand your diagnosis, to confidently ask questions, and to identify providers that are the best fit for you.

More resources for Lung Cancer Diagnosis from Patient Empowerment Network.

Uber Health App

The Community Transportation Association estimates that approximately 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care because of transportation issues that cost the health care system $150 billion each year.

To help combat this issue, Uber has created a new app called Uber Health. Earlier this month Uber announced that they are working with providers to offer reliable rides for patients, care partners, and families to get to and from doctor’s appointments and the hospital.

The app will allow medical and administrative staff to either call an Uber to drive a specific patient home, or to dispatch an Uber to the patient’s house for pick up. The app also allows users to schedule the ride up to 30 days in advance, so important appointments are never missed. Planning transportation in advance enables patients to schedule rides to and from follow-up appointments even while they are still in the healthcare facility. With the ability to schedule and manage multiple rides from a single dashboard, healthcare professionals can take their level of care to the next level with Uber Health.

How It Works

Uber Health saves patients time and money, as they can focus their attention on their health instead of worrying about how they might get to their next appointment. With the help of Uber’s cost-saving methodology, patients and healthcare professionals can save money utilizing the app over hailing taxis or paying for expensive hospital parking.

Uber Health enables older patients and those with chronic pain gain independence and mobility. Because all communication with Uber Health is completed via text message, patients no longer need a smartphone and the corresponding Uber app to access Uber Health’s benefits.

The Uber Health dashboard was designed with HIPAA standards in mind, ensuring that all aspects of the service meet health care privacy and security standards.

As a part of Uber’s beta program, over 100 healthcare organizations in the U.S, including hospitals, clinics, rehab centers, senior care facilities, home care centers, and physical therapy centers are already using Uber Health.

Dashboard

 

For more information, please visit the Uber Health site: https://www.uberhealth.com

Patient Advocacy: Understanding Your Illness

The news that you, or a loved one, has a serious illness can be a terrible blow.  You may be faced with an array of emotions ranging from shock to fear to anxiety. You will likely have many questions and concerns about what the coming days and months will bring, and the impact living with this illness will have on your life and the lives of your family. Although you may be reeling from the news, it’s important that you learn as much as you can about your diagnosis, its symptoms, how it may progress and what treatment options are available. In this article, you will learn which questions you should ask your healthcare team and where to find reliable and trustworthy information to become better informed about your health condition.

1. Obtaining Information From Your Doctors And Healthcare Team

Having answers to your questions can help you understand your illness better and feel more in control about your treatment decisions.  How much information you want is up to you. Some patients feel overwhelmed by too much information at this stage.  Others say they didn’t receive enough information.  While information upon first diagnosis is vitally important, you may be in shock and in a heightened emotional state which makes it difficult to fully comprehend all the information you are given. If possible, bring a trusted friend or family member to appointments with you to take notes. If this is not possible, ask your doctor if you can record the consultation so you can focus on listening, and go back and review what was said later.

Medical care is a conversation and to have influence in that conversation you have to speak up. Never be embarrassed to tell your healthcare team if you don’t understand something they’ve said. Sometimes doctors use medical jargon without realizing they are not explaining things in terms we understand. Repeat what the doctor has told you to be sure you understand and ask for clarification if needed.

Some questions to ask your doctor about your diagnosis:

  • What are the symptoms of this illness?
  • What should you do if you notice new symptoms or if existing symptoms worsen?
  • Do you need any further diagnostic tests?
  • What are your treatment options?
  • What are the side-effects of the recommended treatment?
  • What are the benefits vs the risks?
  • What happens if you do nothing?
  • Are there other treatment options available?

Finally, ask your healthcare team if they can recommend further reading, support groups and other resources to help you learn more about your illness.

2. Finding Reliable Information Online

As you move along the patient journey and better understand your illness, you may want higher levels of information. However, you may find the information healthcare professionals provide has not keep pace with your increased needs. This is the point where many patients turn online to seek more information. While the Internet can be a useful source of health information, it’s important to know how to critically evaluate the information you find online. Always discuss what you find with your healthcare team and ask them to put the information into context for your particular situation.

Here are some questions to help you determine the trustworthiness of online sources of information.

  • Who has produced the information?
  • Does the organization have commercial interests or another reason they are promoting this information?
  • Is the name of the organization and their aims in setting up the website clearly shown?
  • Does the site provide contact details if you have any questions?
  • Is the information on the website up to date?
  • Does it cite the source of the information that is being presented?
  • Does the site link with other reputable sites that give similar information?

3. Evaluating Medical News Reports

Whether it’s published in hard copy or online, medical news reports can mislead people into thinking a certain drug or treatment is the next breakthrough in a disease.  As patient advocates we must learn to read beyond the headlines to filter out the good, the bad, and the questionable.

The following questions will help you evaluate the reliability of medical news reporting.

  • Does the article support its claims with scientific research?
  • What is the original source of the article?
  • Who paid for and conducted the study?
  • How many people did the research study include?
  • Did the study include a control group?
  • What are the study’s limitations?
  • If it’s a clinical trial that is being reported on, what stage is the trial at?

Always try to read an original study (if cited) to critically evaluate the information presented. Understanding research literature is an important skill for patient advocates. For tips on how to read a research paper click on this link.

4. Learning From Peers

From helping us to uncover a diagnosis and finding the right doctors and treatments, to learning about everyday coping tips, turning to our peers can make all the difference in how we live with our illnesses.  Much of this peer-to-peer learning takes place through social media discussions on patient blogs and in Facebook groups and Twitter chats. On Facebook you can connect with other patient advocates and join Facebook groups related to your disease or health condition. On Twitter you have a greater mix of patients, physicians, healthcare professionals and medical researchers coming together to discuss healthcare matters. It is becoming increasingly popular for attendees at key medical conferences, such as ASCO, to “live-tweet” sessions. You can follow along on Twitter using the conference hashtag which you should find published on the conference website. Another way to learn on Twitter is to join a Twitter chat related to your health condition. Twitter chats can be one-off events, but more usually are recurring weekly chats to regularly connect people. There are chats for most disease topics and a full list can be found by searching the database of the Healthcare Hashtag Project.

Final Thoughts

Understanding your illness is the first step on the path to advocating for yourself and others.

Being an advocate involves asking lots of questions, conducting your own research, and making your preferences known to your healthcare team. By doing this, you will be better informed and in a stronger position to get the treatment that is right for you. If this feels overwhelming to you right now, go at your own pace, and reach out to others who have walked this path before you. There is an army of patients who are standing by, ready to share their healthcare wisdom and practical coping tips with you. Seeking their advice will help lessen the fear and isolation you may be feeling, give you a sense of shared experience and connection, and help you feel more in charge of your healthcare decisions.

Living Well With Lung Cancer: What Are the Best Actionable Resources Available for Lung Cancer Patients?

Living Well With Lung Cancer: What Are the Best Actionable Resources Available for Lung Cancer Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What resources are available to me during and after lung cancer treatment? What financial resources are available if my insurance doesn’t cover costs? Can having second-opinion conversations actually be good for your health? Can the role of faith help? Meet lung cancer patient Matt Ellefson, oncology nurse Katie Michelson, and social worker Sandra Manley-Eichler, as they join forces to share how you can most the most of resources available to you today.

[Editor’s note (11/2018): Matt Ellefson passed away after a long battle with lung cancer. Matt was the epitome of what it means to live a purpose-driven life. His work has impacted thousands of people across the world.]


Transcript:

Andrew Schorr:

And greetings from near San Diego—Carlsbad, California. Welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program produced by Patient Power. I’m Andrew Schorr, your host for the next hour. We have a lot to cover, as we discuss what are the best actionable resources available for lung cancer patients? I’m very excited about our guests today and to bring you the information that you need. I want to thank our financial supporters for this program, and they are, of course, Celgene, Helsinn, Novartis and Genentech; and also, our partners in this program, SURVIVEiT, and the Lung Cancer Awareness Month Coalition. And as you know, as we do this program, this is the very end of Lung Cancer Awareness program. But that needs to go on, day by day, month by month, year after year. And hopefully, as therapies are improved, you can live longer and live better, even if you’ve had a diagnosis of lung cancer. And let’s all pray for cures.

But what resources are available for you as you proceed? That’s what we’re gonna be discussing. Now, if you have a question, or a comment, or a suggestion of something that’s worked for you, send it in now or anytime during the program to lung@patientpower.info. Again, that’s lung@patientpower.info, and we’ll do our best to answer your questions and include your comments. And remember that there will be a replay of this program available soon thereafter, within a few days, and video clips discussing the individual topics that we’ve covered.

Should we get started? Okay. So, I’m in California, but now let’s go all the way over near Sarasota, Florida, Longboat Key, and connect with my friend Matt Ellefson. And he’s been on our programs before. I know Matt really well. And man, Matt, you’ve been living with lung cancer for almost eight years now, the end of this month, with six recurrences along the way.

And of course, you founded SURVIVEiT back in 2013. First of all, thank you for being with us, and you’re looking good. 

Matt Ellefson:   

Well, thank you, Andrew. It’s always a pleasure to be part of your organizations. They’re so informational and helpful to those who need to hear it. Thank you for that.

Andrew Schorr:

Now, we’re talking, Matt, about resources, and certainly, SURVIVEiT is a resource. And you’ve worked with so many other organizations, and you’re aware of it. People with lung cancer today should not feel alone, should they?

Matt Ellefson:   

No, no. Never, never. And that’s one of the biggest things that SURVIVEiT stands for, is nobody should ever face cancer alone. And I don’t care if you have lung cancer or what cancer you have. You should never face it alone. And it’s our goal to be sure that nobody ever faces a cancer diagnosis alone.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, we’re gonna talk more about it. We were dealing—I was talking earlier today with someone else who’s a mentor in the lung cancer community with a more rare subtype, Janet Freeman-Daily, who has the ROS1 mutation. And not everybody knows whether they have that mutation or another. And so, we’ll talk about that. How do you connect with others, and maybe, then, there’s a subcommunity that can help you as you move things forward. So, Matt, it’s a family affair in your family.

There is another guest we have, and I want to go to Katie Michelson, who is with the Cancer Care Institute in Rapid City, South Dakota—your home state, Matt. And Katie’s your niece. Katie, welcome to our program.

Katie Michelson:               

Hi, guys. Thanks for having me.

Andrew Schorr:

Katie, you are very devoted to cancer patients that you see in South Dakota. Would you agree, though, that patients need to speak up when their care team works with them, and that often, there are resources that can help—sometimes financially, emotionally, connecting with other patients and other families that are going through it, and the right care?It’s that relationship, but the resources are there, wouldn’t you agree?

Katie Michelson:               

Right. It’s about building the relationship and having that open communication with your provider and the nurses, pharmacists—everyone within the system.

Andrew Schorr:

Great. Well, communication is important. Now, there are emotional things that go along with it. And that’s where our next guest really comes in, an oncology social worker from our partner, the Lurie Cancer Center, Sandra Manley-Eichler. Sandra, welcome to our program, an oncology social worker. When someone’s diagnosed with lung cancer, it’s a pretty heavy load for the family, and certainly for the patient. And people like you are there to help, right?

Sandra Manley-Eichler:

Certainly. I think it’s a really great part of my job. I really enjoy the work that I do. And I encourage all patients and families to reach out for the support that they need.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, let’s get started. So, first of all, Matt, how did you find out what might be available? I mean, you were diagnosed, you were coughing up blood, right?

Matt Ellefson:   

Yes.

Andrew Schorr:

Oh my God, what’s that? And then how did you go from the terror of that to getting grounded again and starting to see who could you network with, what, where do you go? How did you do that?

Matt Ellefson:   

You know, Andrew, the first thing I did was say a prayer. And I believe God answered that prayer. And he was able to call me to the point where I was able to—okay, it’s battle on now. I’m in battle mode. And I did—I researched, and I searched, and I looked. And my wife and my brother-in-law helped. And we were on three laptops. We kind of divided and conquered, and we just tried to learn as much as we could about cancer, about lung cancer, and my specific type of lung cancer, and what I needed to do to treat it effectively—where I needed to go for a second opinion.

Who should I talk to? And the biggest thing, though, that I wanted to do was talk to somebody, a stage IV survivor, that was living a happy and productive life. I wanted to see them, and I wanted to ask them, what did you do? How did you get through it? But I couldn’t find anyone. I couldn’t find anyone. And so, I said, you know what? If they aren’t out there, maybe I’ll be the first one, because I’m not giving up. I’m going through this. And God answered a prayer, and away I went for a second opinion. And I ended up at that cancer center in a clinical trial that proved to save my life.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. And then of course, you’ve been continuing to get informed about did you have certain mutations, what tests did you need. If one medicine pooped out on you, and you’ve had that, was there another medicine approved or in research, a trial, that you could benefit from? So, let’s talk about that for a minute. Katie, you’re at a community cancer center, where most people are treated, community cancer centers.

How do they connect with the information? And let’s face it, lung cancer, aging, there’s been a lot of research. There have been a number of new treatments, immunotherapy, all that. So, what—we talked about communication. What should patients be saying, rather than just feeling so forlorn that they’ve been diagnosed with such a life-threatening condition?

Katie Michelson:     

I think, again, having open communication with your provider. It’s important to listen to what they have to say about your diagnosis and treatment options, but instead of just listening, also ask a lot of questions. Ask what are other treatment options? What are genetic testing that I can do? People are well informed if they ask questions. I feel like that’s the most important part.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Sandra, you’re in an academic medical center, and so, you have a lot of research trials going on too. So, first of all, people say, oh my god, I’ve been diagnosed. Does anybody else have it?

So, maybe you can talk about how do we make connections for patients, and how do also they make sure that the full range of treatment options are available to them? How do you coach people about that?

Sandra Manley-Eichler: 

So, I often work with patients, and I recommend kind of like what Katie was saying, asking a lot of questions of their physician, and not necessarily asking about the resolution from their physician. So, asking where can I find a resource to connect with other lung cancer survivors? And that connection could be, like what Matt was referring to, something specific related to your own diagnosis. I wanted to know – I want to hear from somebody else who has stage IV disease who’s living their live. Where do I go for that? The same thing with treatments, clinical trials, etc. We are fortunate that we are in an academic medical center where we can get connected with a lot of different groups of people with clinical trials, as well as the physicians.

But I think that it’s more than that. It’s sort of you figuring out what is your next step? Because I think when you’re first diagnosed, I think as we know, it can be really scary. And so, at first, it may be a little too intimidating to go right into it. So, sort of taking time and being patient with yourself, and figuring out, is the next step that you want more information, or is it more support? And only you as the patient could know that.

Andrew Schorr:

Go ahead, do an ad for oncology social workers like you. And when I was first diagnosed with leukemia many years ago, it was a social worker who sat down with me pretty quick at the major cancer center I was at, and we chatted. And I think if you’re consumed by fear—you, or your spouse, or family members that are with you—you can’t—you start talking about resources, and you’re not even there. So, I think dealing with the emotional overlay—how do you get that out of the way first, Sandra? How do you lift that cloud a little bit?

There’s still tremendous uncertainty, but how do you lift that cloud so then when you say, well, you can call this number, and you can apply for this, go here and go there, you can think about it?

Sandra Manley-Eichler: 

I always joke with my patients that I feel like I have a whole stack of papers that I just throw at them. And I say, “Well, here you go.” And obviously, the joke is that that’s not gonna be helpful, right? Like you said, you’re sort of consumed with fear. There’s a lot of paralysis, I think, that comes in. And what I recommend is trying to just take one thing at a time. And that’s easier said than done, of course. Something that’s actually evidence-based for cancer-based stress and anxiety is mindfulness practice. Mindfulness-based stress reduction comes in many forms for many different people, whether it’s meditation, or one-to-one mindfulness practice, or even a lot of electronic resources and apps available for that, local courses.

And so, finding some way that makes it easier for you to focus on one thing at a time. And that can be through soliciting the help of friends and family to do that, or through working with a counselor, or, like I said, just engaging in an actual mindfulness practice. There’s a really good book—you can find it on Amazon—Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery. You can get it at your local library as well. And I recommend it for all my patients for exactly that, that anxiety that comes in and that overwhelming feeling.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. So, first resource besides that book is wherever you were being treated, ask if there’s a social worker you can talk to, and they can help guide you through that. We’re gonna talk about other things social workers can do. Related to the jargon of lung cancer—so, I used this word “mutations” before. Somebody’s diagnosed with lung cancer. They’re terrified, and they have had no training. Nobody goes to school, if you’re not in the medical field, to learn about any of this.

And the doctor starts talking about this mutation, and that test, dadada. How do you, Katie, recommend people cut through the jargon to begin to understand?

Katie Michelson:               

Well, in our practice, we utilize nursing navigators a lot to kind of take the time to go over what each targeted therapy would be for their specific diagnosis. It’s important to break it down into layman’s terms so that you understand what’s going on better. And specifically in our practice, we rely a lot on the nurse navigators and on the social workers to help us with that. Obviously, if patients have more specific questions, we can sit down and talk about that further, and talk about it in more detail. But initially, I think it’s important to just kind of keep things simple at first.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. But ask. Ask.

Katie Michelson:               

Right.

Andrew Schorr:

So, Matt—so, you talked about, of course, your faith. But how did you lift the cloud or the terror of the diagnosis for you and your family, and then have this plan? You said, well, we’re gonna get a second opinion. What does that mean? What are they gonna do? What’s gonna happen to me? Where should I go next? How do we pay for it? How did you march through that with you and your family?

Matt Ellefson:   

You know, you just do the best you can. You said it well, and so did Sandra and Katie. The patient does not know. None of us are studying lung cancer ahead of time in anticipation of receiving this diagnosis someday. So, it’s something that’s new to us. And cancer is very complex. It is not something you can learn in two days. And you feel as a patient that you have to make decisions really quick. You have this disease in your body that’s doing its best to kill you. I mean, it is terrifying.

And so, I think one point that I want to make to patients is it’s okay to just calm down, give yourself a couple of weeks, and really understand all of your options, and not be so terrified to jump into something immediately. And that was really my most difficult, most difficult time, was from the point when I was diagnosed until I began treatments, I was going—it was terrifying. It was just horrible for me. I think my oncologist handled it really well, because at that time, I was really not convinced with this treatment plan. It didn’t fall into line with what I had researched. And I wanted to ask around a little bit. I wanted to check—I wanted to get a third opinion. And he said, “That’s perfectly all right. You do that.” And I said, “How much time do I have?” And he said, “You go ahead and take a couple of weeks, but I wouldn’t take any more than a month, because we want to get started.”

And I thought that was handled really well, because it did allow me then to slow down a little bit. I realized that cancer, it may be aggressive, but it isn’t something that’s gonna change overnight. And that’s the fear that a lot of us patients have. We think that, boy, by the end of the week, it’s gonna be growing so bad, we’re not ever gonna be able to stop it. And that’s just—that’s not true. So, people need to really need to be sure that they understand their diagnosis fully, ask all the questions. And SURVIVEiT provides a great tool called “21 Questions to Ask Your Oncologist.” It’s a free, downloadable tool at surviveit.org. Go through that list in detail with your oncologist, and just be sure you understand what your options are available to you, and that you’re making the right choice.

Andrew Schorr:

Well said. I want to tick off some other resources people—Matt, you and I know, in the lung cancer community, there’s some other groups. There’s the Lung Cancer Alliance. There’s Free to Breathe. There’s the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation. There are all these groups that you can call or go on their websites, and they can often connect you with other patients, and they can also help you—guide you, for instance, if you’re trying to seek a second opinion, where is maybe a center you might go to where there’s a lung cancer specialist? Maybe even, if you’ve been identified and had the right diagnostic testing, where there might be research into that mutation you have, that type of lung cancer, or is there a specialist in small cell lung cancer, if you have that, right?

Matt Ellefson:   

Right.

Andrew Schorr:

So, you’re gonna—what we’re finding out now is different subtypes of lung cancer. And then I just want to put in a plug for Facebook, because there are a number of lung cancer Facebook groups as well. And I mentioned this more rare mutation earlier, ROS1. So, there is a group of people with this rare ROS1 mutation worldwide. There are groups for small cell lung cancer. And there are certainly many groups for lung cancer and all this, and advocates. So, we kind of triangulate this.

So, Sandra, it sounds like a lot of work, though. I mean, a lot of people might say, “Oh my God, I’ve been diagnosed with this life-threatening condition. I just want people to just take care of me.” But it sounds like today, if you can martial family and friends around you, though, you do have a lot of horsepower to be a knowledgeable consumer. I mean, you want to say, heal me, but on the other hand, you want to make sure that all your needs are taken care of.

Sandra Manley-Eichler: 

I think it’s such a balance that when you have a diagnosis of any cancer, that you sort of struggle between wanting to be as independent as you were before, and how much do you elicit help from friends and family? It can be a struggle. And I think what’s nice is that you have an opportunity to delegate tasks to friends and family who, like you said, are fostering support for you. And I have a lot of patients who will send somebody else to speak with me. They’ll say, I’m too dizzy from chemo. I’m too tired. I’m trying to figure out, maybe, how to manage childcare, or going back to work at some point during treatment. And then they’ll ask maybe a friend, or a sibling, or a parent, or a spouse to reach out to me for those resources instead, and sort of filter through those resources.

So, you have many resources, that you have a lot of people who can help you sort of narrow down what’s the best one for you, including your social worker.

Andrew Schorr:

How do you coach people on asking for help? So, Matt, you have five kids, and you have a pretty large family, and a big community in South Dakota where you live. But Sandra, first I’ll start with you, is how do you give yourself permission to say, this is all I can do. My job is to try to get well, but I need help with communication, with food, with asking questions to the doctor, financial resources, transportation.

Sandra Manley-Eichler: 

Sure. With a lot of my patients, I think that that’s a very common problem, so I want to validate that that’s something that I’m sure a lot of our listeners are struggling with, is at what point do I ask for help? And for what? And does that make me appear weak or like I can’t handle it, right? Never a good way to feel.

And I often say, think of somebody that you care about a great deal, whether it’s a family member, your best friend, a mentor, maybe—and now imagine that that person was just diagnosed with cancer. And think about the lengths to which you would go to help that person. And I guarantee you that there are many people in your life who would feel the same way about you. So, I think putting yourself in the shoes of the caregiver, the other person who wants to be of help and exercise some control over what they can do to help you, is a good an exercise in sort of reminding us that we’re all fallible. We all have positions in which we wish that we could sort of shoulder everything. But we’re all human beings. And if you can sort of connect with the people in your life that you really care about, you’ll see that they care about you too.

Andrew Schorr:

I want to remind our audience, if you have a question or something that you want to share, just send it to lung@patientpower.info. Katie, next question for you is you’re at a treatment center.

And I’m actually going through leukemia treatment these days, so I’m in a room with some people getting infusions and things, not just for leukemia but for lung cancer. And there are family members and friends who come in. So, tell me, how do you feel as a practitioner about the involvement of family and friends, and what’s helpful with the healthcare team, and maybe what isn’t?

Katie Michelson:

I think it’s one of the biggest support systems that you can have. And we have almost all of our patients come in with either a friend or a family member to all of their follow-ups. They’re there throughout their infusion. And being a prior infusion nurse in the chemo setting, I have seen the relationships that these patients have with their families. I see the relationships that they develop with other cancer patients that are in the next room, or down under the next curtain, or behind the next curtain. And so, those relationships are really important.

And I guess I just have seen that support system a lot, and I know it’s a big part.

Andrew Schorr:

So, making the infusion room a chatty place is okay.

Katie Michelson:               

It is. It’s interesting from a nursing standpoint to see, on a patient’s first infusion day, you’re nervous, as to be expected. And then as the weeks go by, you start to develop relationships with the patients that are there every Wednesday or every other Wednesday. And it’s really cool to see people make their own support groups at their chemo treatment.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. So, Matt, what would you say to people about asking for help or delegating responsibility for family or friends, or a church group, or your synagogue?

Matt Ellefson:   

I think it’s very important, and it doesn’t come easy to a lot of us, for the reasons that you guys just discussed. I mean, we all want to control the path of our life to some degree, and especially when you have a life-threatening disease; you really want to control it.

I mean, because you don’t want to make the wrong choices. And so, it’s really hard to relinquish some of that control to somebody else. And I would recommend, start small. I gave up—the first thing I did was I gave up control of my nutrition to my wife. And she was gonna just study nutrition, and what I needed to it, and the cancer-fighting foods, and things I needed to stay away from. And I thought, boy, this is so helpful. I don’t have to study that anymore. Now I can focus on other things. So, I would recommend, start small. Find one little sliver of need that you might have, and ask a friend if they will do that—your friend, or loved one, or caregiver. And I’ll guarantee you, they’re gonna be willing to do it. And just let it go. And then you’ll start to see the benefit of having that help. It’s tremendous. You can’t do this alone.

Andrew Schorr:

No. There are some tools also for communication to extended networks of family and friends. So, whether you’re like me in California, and I have relatives back in New York and friends around the country, fortunately—they say, well, how’s Andrew doing? Well, if you’re in the throes of treatment and you don’t feel well, it’s very difficult for you to take every phone call or respond to every email. So, think of having somebody, a family member or a friend, who’s like your communications—chief of communications. And there are tools. So, for instance, one I can think of off the bat it Caring Bridge, but there’s some others where you can use these off the shelf tools that are available to you—often for free. Many of the medical centers have them as well—to communicate with family and friends how you’re doing, whether you’re an outpatient, whether you’re in remission, whether you’re in the hospital.

And I think that’s really helpful. Matt, you’d agree, wouldn’t you?

Matt Ellefson:   

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It is important to use those tools. Your friends and loved ones want to know how you’re doing, and they want to hear from you, and they want to help. But they haven’t had—many of them haven’t had cancer themselves either, and they don’t know what to do. And they’re afraid to do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing, so it’s really—it becomes a different situation for everyone involved. So, but give them the opportunity to help. And one thing that we always hear people say, too—and I’m gonna flip the coin a little bit. If you’re a friend that’s trying to help somebody with cancer, one thing that people always say is, “Let me know if I can do anything. I’m here for you. Just let me know.” Well, a patient isn’t gonna let them know, because we just don’t do that, because we want to try everything.

So, it’s better to say, you know what? If you live in the cold part of the country, say, you know what? I’m gonna shovel your driveway. Every time it snows, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to worry about any of that. I got it covered. Or, I’m gonna mow your lawn. And if you’re a caregiver or a supporter listening today, take that on. Understand that the patient isn’t gonna ask. You just offer. You just do it, because they need your help, and it will be greatly appreciated, believe me. It will be.

Andrew Schorr:

So, Sandra, a lot of people are reluctant to communicate or don’t—they don’t want to—we’re facing up to our mortality when you’re diagnosed with a cancer. And then we have different family members—including, I want to bring up, children. So, how do you coach people, and what help or resources are there to help us as a patient communicate honestly and where it’s helpful?

Sandra Manley-Eichler: 

Absolutely. I think that it’s important to acknowledge that children will be at different developmental stages. And I think a lot of people feel that they have to be almost extra truthful and mention a lot of details about their cancer treatment, because if they don’t mention every single detail, they’re somehow not being truthful. And in many cases, children are just too young to comprehend, or perhaps they’re developmentally not at the right stage to understand chemotherapy, radiation and what it means. I think parents need to figure out what kind of outcome do they want to have? What do you want the outcome to be of the conversation with your children? I also wanted to dispel a myth. I have a lot of patients who come in who say, “I want to have the big talk. I want to talk with my children about what’s going on with my treatment.” And I usually like to take a step away from that and say, there’s actually multiple talks. You have a lot of almost mini-conversations with children, usually probably just starting off saying, “Mom is sick. Dad is sick.”

And then appropriating from there what’s most appropriate for their treatment, what’s gonna be happening, how their life is going to change, maybe. Practical things. Sometimes kids just want to know, are you still gonna take me to school? Is it gonna be somebody else? And to just roll with the punches. Check in with them and keep open dialogue.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, that’s very important. I want to go on to another area we’ve been getting some questions about, and it’s sort of the elephant in the room. And that is, with innovation in cancer care, but also with inflation, maybe—cancer care is really expensive. And insurance varies. If you’re with our audience in the U.S., you know how much debate is going on about it. And so, people say, well, gee, how are we gonna deal with a cancer and not go broke? Are there resources to help? So, Katie, let me just start with you for a minute. We’ll come back to Sandra.

Katie, I’m sure that conversation comes up. You mentioned nurse navigators, and maybe at your clinic, you have other navigators. How can we help financial research.

Katie Michelson:               

I’m lucky. At my facility that I work at, we have a navigator that is just focused specifically on getting things covered for insurance, preauthorization, looking at the drug companies themselves for support with medications. We also look towards the social worker a lot for additional support. Even though I’m in a smaller hospital, smaller clinic, we have a lot of resources for our patients, and that’s specifically to help with the financials of everything.

There is also a program that we have, and I can’t speak for every hospital, but any prescription that is made under the provider at our clinic is covered by the hospital.

So, that’s a resource that our patients use a lot. Anything that has to do with their cancer treatment, anxieties, side effects from chemo—that’s all covered for the patients. 

Andrew Schorr:

Wow. Well, I should mention, and this is for audience—depending on where you get care, check. So, for instance, okay. So, first thing is, what insurance do you have and what coverage? I was blessed when I asked the financial person as I was in my second cycle of leukemia treatment. I said, “Oh, I just want to check how much this is gonna cost me.” And because I had Medicare, and I had a Medicare supplement—you see the ads on TV on the U.S. all the time now for the Medicare supplement. For these infused therapies, I have no cost. Wow. Okay. Certainly with the oral therapies, there are co-pays, and a lot of people look for assistance programs. So, let’s talk about that too, Sandra. So, even if you have—maybe your infused therapies are being covered, you may have oral therapies that unfortunately the insurance is different.

But there are some programs to help there too, aren’t there?

Sandra Manley-Eichler: 

Absolutely. I’m so glad you brought that up. And just as an aside, since we’re talking about Medicare, if there’s anybody listening, Medicare open enrollment ends in one week. So, this is the time at which folks with Medicare can actually seek if there’s a different plan that they would like to enroll in if they felt that it hasn’t been covering their cancer care as much as they would like. So, just putting that out there for Medicare recipients.

So, I work with patients quite a bit on oral oncolitics, all the medications related to their side effects. Katie, it sounds like your institution has a really great program. And again, I do encourage—I want to bounce back off of what you said, Andrew—definitely check in with your hospital to see if there’s any assistance available at the hospital itself for assistance for your pharmaceutical needs. One resource I’m going to recommend is www.needymeds.com. That’s N-E-E-D-Y-M-E-D-S.com.

So, that website is almost like a Yellow Pages, if you will, for finding assistance for very specific medication. It can be very helpful. And then certainly, reaching out to the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug in question to see if they have a specific pharmaceutical program for it. But help is definitely out there. 

Andrew Schorr:

Right. So, there are various co-pay assistance programs. I’m gonna tick off a couple I think of. You may think of others. Patient Advocate Foundation, Good Days. And I know there are some others as well. And then, I was on a panel with a drug company where they explained that when there were no other resources, some of them—not all of them—do have some free drug programs too. So, you gotta ask. And if you’re prescribed a certain medicine, go on the website and call. Usually, they have nurses as well associated at the drug company. Call them and say, look, this is my financial. Am I missing something?

Is there a program that I have not thought about? And the other financial thing I wanted to talk about is related to clinical trials. So, Matt, I know you’re aware of this. And you traveled across the country for second opinions and different treatments. And some of my other friends with lung cancer have gone for some distance for clinical trials. But there can be assistance for that too, Matt, as well, right?

Matt Ellefson:   

Yes, there can. And not many patients are aware of that, but it’s becoming more and more prevalent, actually, which is good. It needs to. They are opening up payment for travel costs, which is great. Oftentimes, clinical trials already cover the drug cost. But if you’re able to get the cost of traveling to and from your treatments, that can save you a lot of money. And that—it’s really important.

It’s gonna help drive the enrollment of clinical trials, which, on average in the U.S. is at three percent. It’s very low. And as we can get that enrollment to increase at higher levels, that just allows the drug to be approved that much quicker. So, it’s really important. 

Andrew Schorr:

Great. Great. So, Sandra, so there are sometimes—I know I had a—maybe it was in Northwestern where you are, or another center where the social workers or clinical trial coordinators sometimes had coupons for different airlines. I think Southwest Airlines did, to help for patients who were coming from a distance. Am I right? But you need to ask.

Sandra Manley-Eichler: 

Yes, you do have to ask. You’re absolutely right. There are some airlines that will contract with different hospitals for providing specifically that. So, especially for finding—whether it’s getting a second opinion or traveling specifically for clinical trials.

I’m also gonna recommended the Corporate Angels Network. They provide free flights for patients. So, it’s a system where folks with access to corporate jets, private flights, will open up seats as they become available for survivors of cancer. So, I think, like you said, it’s always about asking. There’s no harm in that, right?

Andrew Schorr:

Oh, one other thing I wanted to mention is a lot’s changing in the U.S., and we’re all watching it carefully about insurance issues, including with Medicare. And so, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have a proposed rule change coming up for those of us who take oral medicines through Medicare Part D, where our copay will be based on the discounted price that the insurance company may have negotiated with the drug company, which, believe it or not, right now, they often don’t pay us on. So, we pay a co-pay that’s a percentage of the retail price when whoever was providing the medicine to us got a discount that they didn’t pay us on us.

Kind of bad and crazy. And so, if you keep an eye on our Patient Power website, I’m gonna be blogging about this and give you a link so you can sound off with the Medicare folks as this proposed rule change is considered. Okay. So, we talked about finance as best we could. We talked about family relationships. I want to talk to you a little bit, Katie, a little bit more about speaking up with your doctor. Maybe the nurse is right there with you, and you have a relationship with them, and then those visits you have with the doctor, and sometimes it’s a little intimidating.

Katie Michelson:               

Mm-hmm.

Andrew Schorr:

So, what would you say to people, though—we talked about communication, about not being afraid to ask questions of the doc, who you may see sometimes as a scientist. And maybe there’s a lot of lingo that’s going on. You’re a little intimidated. But kind of your right to ask questions.

Katie Michelson:

Absolutely. I’ve said it. Ask the questions that you have. If they don’t have the answer that you’re looking for, ask it again. I mean, just keep being an advocate for yourself. And when it comes to therapy and side effects and the toxicity that you might be experiencing, it’s important to discuss that with your doctor, too. And don’t be afraid that a treatment plan would change, or that chemo would be stopped, or that treatment would be stopped just based on side effects. Talk to your doctor and talk to your provider. Keep an open dialogue. Ask questions.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, Matt, let’s be a little more specific about it. There were some people—we were talking about how often patients don’t want to speak up. They just want to put their head down and deal with it. But yet, people may be suffering some side effects that they’re sort of—I don’t want to say grin and bearing, but just bearing.

Again, it’s really important to—the resources can’t be brought to bear unless they know that you’re dealing with a lot of pain, or you’re not sleeping, you have extreme nausea when you get home. They don’t know unless you tell them, right?

Matt Ellefson:   

That’s true. You don’t know what you don’t know. And it is difficult for us, because we are afraid that if we say something sometimes, that’s gonna mean that, okay, they’re gonna reduce dosage. And that may mean that it’s not gonna be as effective. Or there are a number of things. Because at this point in the game, we don’t understand the answer all that well. Now, myself, being on my eighth year, I understand those things really well now. And I get into some pretty serious debates with my oncologist. And I’m not afraid to tell them anything.

But when you’re initially diagnosed, that’s not the case. You don’t feel comfortable, and you are afraid that if you bring up certain things, it may change the course of your treatment. And you need to realize that’s not true. You need to have that discussion. If they do want to change the course of your treatment, then you start talking about that, and you start weighing the benefits of that versus dealing with the side effects. And there are so many different medicines, even alternative therapies, available to deal with side effects. So, you have many, many options. So, you need to exhaust those first before you become afraid that you’re gonna need your treatment reduced or changed.

Andrew Schorr:

Earlier, you mentioned about getting a second opinion. A lot of times, people are hesitant to mention that to Doctor Number One, because Doctor Number One will feel insulted.

Matt Ellefson:   

You’re absolutely right. And it’s not even Doctor Number One. It’s Doctor Number Two. I mean, even today, at almost eight years, I need my doctor, and he’s great. And I have more than one doctor. I have a second opinion doctor, and I have even a third opinion doctor that I’m connected with all the time. But my primary oncologist—I need him. And I do not want to upset him. And I do not want him—because I feel that if I say the wrong thing and I upset him in some way, he’s not gonna give me the attention, maybe, that I deserve, and he may say, well, the heck with him. He’s a complainer. He doesn’t believe in me, so I’m gonna focus on other patients. That’s our normal thought process. But I’d love to hear Katie and Sandra, what their comments are on this.

That’s not true. They don’t do that. They understand that patients are going through a difficult time. And they know how to deal with it. 

Andrew Schorr:

So, Sandra, what would you say? So, one resource for people’s treatment is to get a second opinion so there’s a clear picture of what they’re dealing with. What would you say? So, how do they make that happen and feel okay about it?

Sandra Manley-Eichler: 

Well, I think we have to remember that physicians are also scientists. And scientists believe in repetition of testing. And so, if anything, the physician is very confident about his or her approach to your treatment, then they’re gonna want somebody else to verify that—to say, yup, that you’re going to the right place and you’re getting exactly the right treatment that you have. That being said, a lot of physicians, even though we hold them up as authority figures, and they’re really great people and very smart – they also appreciate that, hey, there maybe somebody else who has a better idea than I do.

And so, I think having a very honest conversation, and even so much as just say, “You know, Doc, I have a question, but I’m a little uncomfortable asking it.” And so, maybe that would be sort of a way to start the conversation and then continue from there. Because sometimes, you’ll be surprised. They’ll already have a person for you to go to. They’ll say, “Oh, sure. I know somebody at Sloan-Kettering. I know somebody at Dana Farber. You should go to this person for the second opinion,” right? And so, I think that it’s just kind of checking in with them and seeing where’s your next step?

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. And one more thing about it is, let’s say that my family member uncovers a clinical trial somewhere else. You’re in Chicago. You have a bunch of major medical centers. I may be hesitant, or should I be, to bring it up with my doctor at my institution where I’ve started, because the trial’s not there.

Sandra Manley-Eichler: 

I think a lot of people feel hesitant, and you folks already mentioned this idea of maybe offending the physician or insulting them in some way. I think that it’s one of those things where a clinical trial contributes to everybody. So, enrollment in clinical trials really only helps the physician that you’re seeing, whether it’s at the place that you’re going first to start treatment or all of them. So, I think that there’s a really great community of physicians who really believe in clinical trials, and they want more enrollment, and enrollment for something that’s the best for your cancer. I think one of the best things about lung cancer treatment is how targeted it is. And that’s really coming out in a lot of the research. And the research wouldn’t be here without clinical trials, whether that’s at your home institution, or whether that’s at another hospital. But the hesitancy is definitely there.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. So, one of the people watching our show said, “Gee, give me some more hard information.” So, I hope you’re writing some stuff down.

So, for instance—and you just touched on it—there are specific cell types of lung cancer. Not just non-small cell or small cell, but different types. You’ve heard of some of them. Maybe you’re dealing with the ALK mutation, the EGFR. They’re identifying others. ROS1, I mentioned. So, in any case, whether you have one of these identified mutations or others that maybe you’ve noticed, that’s where the testing comes in. And Katie, talk about that. So, for instance, there are a number of companies now doing testing, and there are groups like the Lung Cancer Alliance, and Bonnie Addario, and I think some of the others have been involved, to facilitate you getting the testing if otherwise, you’re having insurance issues or things to help get it paid for. But you gotta ask. You gotta speak up. And Katie, I’m sure you’re familiar now with all these subsets of lung cancer now, and how important it is to get an accurate diagnosis of what’s going on with you, right?

Katie Michelson:               

Yes. 

Andrew Schorr:

Yeah. It really is vital. So, again, ask about tests. Is there a test that I should have, and then you can call one of these foundations, like I mentioned, Lung Cancer Alliance. A, how do I get this genomic testing handled for me? And then their company’s foundation, Medicine Garden, there are a number that do the testing that also have programs to facilitate getting it paid for possibly, or sometimes there’s assistance in other ways as well. So, hopefully that’s some concrete information for people about diagnosis.

We talked about travel. We talked about clinical trials. We’ve talked about the family issues as well. Now, going forward with the uncertainty of it, how do you cope, Matt? I mean, you started SURVIVEiT. But for people you know and even yourself, there’s so much uncertainty of how long the treatment that you have will work, or is there a plan? What resources do you use to move forward—to have hope, basically?

Matt Ellefson:   

Well, the biggest thing that I do is I go—I’m a man of very strong faith, and I go back to my faith. And I always try to be grateful. And when I’m in a slump, I take ten minutes to think about five things I’m grateful for, and I write them down. And we can’t be fearful, or angry, or shameful, or full of any pity, and be grateful at the same time. They don’t go together. You just can’t be that way. Gratitude always kills fear. It kills anger. It kills doubt. It kills shame. And gratitude’s your friend. So, always—you learn to change your thoughts. You learn to change your mind. And another thing I do is, instead of trying to think about how I think or feel, I focus on being the difference.

And I feel that’s why my health has been so sustainable for so long, is I’ve learned that—I’ve learned where my blessings have come from. It’s not from thinking, and it’s not from telling people, but from being. Being optimistic, and being humble, and being empathetic, and being compassionate, and being a warrior of love. Being somebody that, I’m gonna take this on, but I’m gonna love a lot of people along the way. And that is really, really important.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, thank you on so much about that and what propels you. And I think it’s good advice for other people. Matt, you had genomic testing. You’ve had it at different times. Some people have written in and said, “Well, what if my doctor is not willing to do that?”

Or sending it off for other analysis? So, what can you tell people about that and how they can really understand what their mutational status is, and getting that analyzed by the appropriate lab?

Matt Ellefson:   

No, especially via late stage cancer, stage III or IV, it is crucial that you get genomic testing. And not just the testing that your cancer center can provide. I mean, don’t only test for the genes that they have the ability to treat. You need a comprehensive panel. And if your doctor’s unwilling to do that, you need another doctor. It’s just that simple. You need to seek a second opinion immediately. Because cancer is very complex. And the reality is, it doesn’t matter what enemy you have. You can’t find any enemy until you know what that enemy is. And it’s the same way with cancer.

Until we can pinpoint what is specifically driving our cancer, we can’t fight it effectively. So, it’s extremely important to have a comprehensive full panel genomic sequencing performed so that you are provided with—first of all, you understand what is driving your cancer. And even if what is driving your cancer today doesn’t have a targetable solution, a medicine that can target that gene to stop the cancer, at least now you know what to watch for. Because there are breakthroughs coming through monthly. I mean, I get emails—I sign up to listings. SURVIVEIT posts them very quickly in our newsroom, into our social media channels. That stuff is happening faster than it ever has in the history of the delivery of cancer care.

The innovative technology today is happening very quickly. So, you can’t ever lose hope. You really can’t lose hope. When I was diagnosed almost eight years ago, they had one treatment—excuse me—available, a targeted therapy available for lung cancer. And now today, there’s five. And it’s because I’ve been able to stay alive during that time period, I’ve been able to allow them to develop another one and another one.

Andrew Schorr:

A bridge to what’s next. A bridge to what’s next.

Matt Ellefson:   

And you can’t—you just can’t lose hope. You need to know what it is that’s driving your cancer so you can follow that.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. So, Matt, you know we have a friend Lisa Goldman out in California, where her initial genomic testing was for one gene. And then she needed to be tested again and again, and they’d already started her on chemo.

But fortunately, they got to the point where they identified the gene like the third or fourth time around that was active for her, and there was a treatment. And she’s still doing quite well on it, and hopefully, knock on wood, that’ll continue for a long time.

Matt Ellefson:   

Yeah.

Andrew Schorr:

So, you need to get to that point. Now, people ask for hard resources here. So, the Lung Cancer Alliance has a program where you can call, and they have various groups that work with you to assist you in getting genomic testing, okay? And we, Matt and I, are involved in something called the Precision Medicine for Me Consortium, where we’re working now where there may be research groups that come into play that will facilitate paying for the test if you otherwise don’t have insurance. And unfortunately, that’s the mission now, to pay for testing. Okay?

So, listen carefully. I hope you’ve written some of this down. And I wanted to bring up one another thing related to insurance. Some people have fights with their insurance company in their state. Not Medicare now, or maybe this insurance company or that insurance company, operating in your state. There’s a group called the AIMED Alliance—A-I-M-E-D, AIMED Alliance. It’s aimedalliance.com—where they have—it’s propelled by health insurance attorneys who will go to bat with you to make sure that you, even if you have to appeal to the state insurance commissioner, that if there have been denials, that you can appeal that and go through the process to get what is—what you deserve.

So, I know, Sandra, people don’t want to have to have these fights with insurance companies or go to all these resources. But I guess today with this moving target of lung cancer, maybe when you delegate it to family members, that’s unfortunately part of the job.

Sandra Manley-Eichler:

I think that I try not to see it so much as a fight as every patient is a lion tamer in a circus. And whether or not we want to be dealing with the circus, or we want to be that lion tamer, I think that we need to take that control to the patient. I think that one thing that I usually encourage a lot of my patients is to not be afraid. You are the patient. The insurance is intended to be supportive of your care, and if you don’t feel that it’s doing that, then it’s within everyone’s best interest to advocate for that. I’m really glad that you mentioned AIMED Alliance. I’m also going to recommend the organization Triage Cancer. So, Triage is T-R-I-A-G-E. They have a lot of information on their blog about supporting patients, as well as other free webinars talking about how best to navigate their health insurance.

I agree with you, I think it’s really unfortunate that a lot of patients, on top of the stress of treatment, feel like they have to fight with their insurance company. As a social worker, I work with patients, and I often do a lot of conference calls with patients with their insurance company to try to see if we can figure out, where is the disconnect? Where is the coverage not meeting their expectation? And how we can work with that. And I think over time, since it’s gonna continue to come up, because patients—our voice is getting stronger, right? That hopefully, there’ll be a resolution. That’s my hope.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Amen. Well, Matt is part of that. I try to be part of it too. So, Katie, what advice would you give—as we get close to our ending time here. You’re at a community campus center, but it sounds like they’re in Rapid City. You have a lot of resources – nurse navigators, social workers, people who help look into financial programs. And most people are treated at it sounded more like yours. But some may go to Northwestern, certainly, and the cancer centers like where Sandra is.

But at your level, what would you say people can do so that they take advantage of these? Should they just start by saying to the nurse who’s sticking tubes in their arm, should they say, “Hey, is there somebody I can talk to about finance?” Or, “I’m feeling really down, or my family is,” or, “Gee, I want to get a second opinion.” How do you start the conversation?

Katie Michelson:               

I think it can start with the nurse, definitely. They’re usually the first person that sees you once you’re there for your consultation or for your visit. And then in turn, the nurse can let either the nurse practitioner or the doctor know, and we’ll get you in touch with the social worker or, like I said, the nurse navigators. We can do whatever we can to get you the resources that you need. The first start can be with the person at the front desk. It doesn’t matter who you ask first. It just needs to be asked so that we know that you need the assistance.

Andrew Schorr:

I want to put in a plug for something I wrote about six years ago. When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know anything. And as Matt was saying, we’re often drinking from the fire hose. A lot of data coming at us, and information and jargon we can’t understand or absorb, and we’re terrified. I wrote a book called The Web-Savvy Patient, and here we are on the web. Look it up. The Web-Savvy Patient. And I’ll say right off the bat, I need to revise it. But the process you can go through and some of the resources that were available, even when I wrote the book, and they’ve just multiplied since then, were the process—asking questions, going into the lit. Is there a social worker? Is there a nurse navigator? Is there a financial counselor? Is there air travel assistance? Is there a clinical trial? How do I identify who I should get for a second opinion? And all of that is available to you.

Matt, some closing comments from you. What would you say where people say, “God, I don’t know where to turn”? What would you say to them?

Matt Ellefson:   

I would say turn to God. I would say turn to God, yeah. There are so many people that are really gripped by fear and gripped by the failure to really provide the answers or locate the answers that they’re searching for. And you can always pray for wisdom. And you can also—SURVIVEiT is built—we’re an organization of survivors helping patients. We are built primarily and entirely for the focus that we’re talking about today, because we have been there, and we know what it’s like to struggle. So, we provide and we vote on best-in-class resources. So, if you go surviveIt.org and resource library, it is full of best-in-class resources to help you.

And the other thing that we do is we started a series of videos called Fearless Fridays. And on Fearless Friday, we have a video, and we talk about topics like we talked about today. We pick a different topic every week. But one thing I would also recommend people to do is to reach out and join our SURVIVEiT prayer wall on Facebook. And if you need any help at all, if you need a prayer that’s sent your way – and it doesn’t matter what religion you are—we are gonna pray for everybody. So, everyone is welcome, and everyone can send a prayer, or you can write prayers to others. One of my biggest go to prayers is, “Jesus, I’ll go where you send me. I’m willing and I’m not afraid. My pains and sufferings—may my pains and sufferings contribute in some way to the peace of others.

“And please help me touch those in need with the same love that you’ve given me.” And by changing your thoughts from yourself to how you’re gonna help others, and by allowing yourself to use what is happening to you, these pains and sufferings, for a positive use to help other people, and that’s how you conquer cancer.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, I agree. I’m Jewish, so I see it similarly, but slightly different. And some of you may be religious or not. But I think the idea of this positive force that you can develop in yourself, and draw from others, and bring out in others to help you. And I think you’d agree that, Katie, the healthcare team is really there to help you and give you that sort of support. I’ve had a lot of hugs from nurses.

Katie Michelson:               

We are. Nurses are the best.

Andrew Schorr:

It’s so true. I have a nurse in the family as well. Any final comment from you, Sandra, where people feel overwhelmed about how they can pull on some of these resources, to have the courage to do it? What would you say?

Sandra Manley-Eichler: 

Well, I think everybody has courage. You’re living every minute with a very aggressive, or maybe not aggressive, but something that feels very heavy for a cancer diagnosis. And that’s for both patients and their caregivers. I think that, kind of piggybacking off of what Matt said, that wherever you can find meaning is most important. Some people find meaning in the little things. That really great cup of coffee they have in the morning, the sound of a child laughing—things like that. It’s sort of the details of the day. Some people find meaning with bigger things, like speaking on a panel like this, like you’re doing, Matt, and sort of reaching out and using their experience to help other patients sort of make sense of their diagnosis.

And sort of going back to the question of “why me,” right? Well, why not? And so, you seek meaning in every day and every minute that you have, and that will carry you through. And that will give you the courage to ask for the things that you need, whether they’re small and practical, or whether they’re big and emotional.

Andrew Schorr:

So, I’m gonna give you a couple of other suggestions before we wrap up, too. So, my daughter Ruthie coordinates a Facebook group that we started in February of 2017, and it’s called the Cancer Connection. So, it’s people with all different cancers—a number of people with lung cancer. It has about—approaching 90,000 followers. So, these are people who’ve reached out, and they want to make a connection. Matt’s group has it. There are other lung cancer-specific Facebook groups. But draw on that.

And then going back to something we were talking about with Katie, strike up a conversation with somebody in the waiting room, in the infusion room, at the cafeteria, in the hospital or the clinic. I do that. Then you put yourself out. And I’ve been doing it now—21 years ago, I was diagnosed with leukemia. I’ve met so many people. Many, I’ve met only virtually, and then, boy, if I’ve ever met them in person, it’s like we know each other, and I’ve heard about their kids, and we’ve heard about their journey. We all have that Purple Heart of having gone through cancer care, and so we can relate to that. Speak up. Don’t keep it all bottled up. Sandra, would you agree with that?

Sandra Manley-Eichler: 

Absolutely. And I think that a lot of people feel voiceless when they get diagnosed, but it’s not the case. Your voice just becomes stronger as a result of your diagnosis.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, I want to thank all of you, and I want to thank you, Sandra, for joining us from the Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern, Chicago.

And Katie, thank you for joining us from Rapid City. I hope it’s not a harsh winter there.

Katie Michelson:

We really haven’t had a winter yet.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, good. Maybe it won’t be that. And there’s your Uncle Matt down in Florida, in the sun, enjoying his health, but enjoying every day, Matt. Matt, thank you so much for all you do from SURVIVEiT, and thank you for some sage advice today. Thanks for being with us.

Matt Ellefson:   

A pleasure to be here, Andrew. Thank you for everything you do.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay, well, thank you. It is a pleasure. I want to thank everybody. We went a little bit long, but hopefully, if you were taking notes, there are some resources along the way that you had. And remember, it was really—just have—really just celebrate every day, is what I do. And I know that’s what Matt does. And then draw on others to help you.

The resources are there. I want to thank you sponsors for supporting this program—CelGene, Nelson, Novartis, and Genentech. And thank you so much to the Patient Empowerment Network for allowing us to work with you to put on these programs.

And thanks to your group, Matt, SURVIVEiT, and also the Lung Cancer Awareness Month Coalition. And I hope that this month, but every day, we can continue to raise awareness and hope for cures. In Carlsbad, California, I’m Andrew Schorr. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

What’s the Hope Today for Living With Small Cell Lung Cancer?

What’s the Hope Today for Living With Small Cell Lung Cancer? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Can I live well with small cell lung cancer (SCLC)? Why does small cell lung cancer have fewer newer treatment options like NSCLC (targeted therapies, immunotherapy)? What is on the horizon for SCLC patients?

In this program, Jerry Schreiber, 75, of Michigan City, Indiana was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) in October 2016 by accident after being seen for sleep apnea. Jerry shares how he is doing today following surgery and chemo. Dr. Laura Chow of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance discusses the latest in the treatment of small cell lung cancer and shares the how SCLC is different from NSCLC, while Carly Ornstein of the American Lung Association shares what resources and tools are available to SCLC patients today.

Fact Checking 101: Health Literacy in Real Time

There’s a medical miracle every day, if you believe headlines on popular media sites. If you just read those headlines, cancer is cured daily, as are hepatitis C, and a host of neurological conditions. Dive into the stories, though, and you’ll all too often find the “in mice” red flag, meaning that scientific experiments have indicated that mice are having terrific outcomes from whatever substance is being touted. Humans? Not so much.

Information flows at the speed of life – thank you, Internet – but information does not always equal factual truth. Which is where fact checking comes in, and what I’ll be offering tips on here. As a journalist, I’ve hunted down confirmations on stories for years – here’s a quick primer on doing it for your own health/science literacy building.

  • Snopes.com: this site is the granddaddy of online myth busting. They have a dedicated channel for health news, which is definitely a good first stop to fact check a headline touting a “cure” for an illness or condition.
  • Sense About Science USA: the US arm of the UK-based Sense About Science and AllTrials, this site takes a deep dive into advocacy and literacy building for both the public, and professionals, around medical science. They’re in the process of creating an AllAccess Patient Guide on clinical trial participation, and transparency in reporting on all trials, which will be published in the fall of this year (2017).
  • Health News Review: the editors and reviewers behind this site are professional healthcare journalists dedicated to reading and scoring the reporting on health science in major media. I think of them as Politifact For Healthcare – they don’t issue “pants on fire” or “Pinocchio” warnings, but their 5-star review system is rigorous, and great reading.
  • FactCheck.org and FlackCheck.org: these sites assess news stories and sources in many categories, from politics to science to health policy. They’re produced by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and are great resources for fact checking in all news categories, not just science.
  • Retraction Watch: this is in the Super Science Nerd Journalist zone, covering the retraction of scientific papers around the world. There’s an old news adage about corrections being buried deep beneath the front page – that rule goes double in science publishing. A paper is published, and makes big headlines. If it’s retracted weeks/months/years later, there’s seldom a screaming headline announcing the retraction, leaving the untruth out there to be misunderstood and often misused.

Building your own health and science literacy is a process. Reading the latest medical science news is a starting point, but you have to add fact checking as a critical part of your learning curve. Then use the “see one, do one, teach one” method to help your friends and family build their health literacy, teaching them how to find and fact check the science news that matters – that’s how we all build healthy, science-literate communities.

How to Weigh Up the Benefits and Risks of Treatment…and Why It’s Important That You Do

Do clinicians have accurate expectations of the benefits and harms of treatments and screening tests?

new study in JAMA Internal Medicine concludes not. In a systematic review of 48 studies (13 011 clinicians), the researchers found that clinicians rarely had accurate expectations of benefits or harms, more often underestimating harms and overestimated benefits. Among the findings, obstetricians and neurologists underestimated the risk of birth defects from anti-epileptic drugs and GPs overestimated the benefit of prostate cancer screening. Transplant surgeons were biased towards an inaccurately low estimate of graft failure and all types of doctors were unaware of the risk of radiation exposure from imaging.

What do these findings mean for patients? Inaccurate clinician expectations of the benefits and harms of interventions can profoundly influence decision making and the standard of care patients receive. Patient activist, blogger, and author of the upcoming book “Heart Sisters: A Survivor’s Take on Women and Heart Disease” (Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2017), Carolyn Thomas, believes this to be “a consistently systemic issue for patients, too: most believe medical interventions will help more/harm less than they actually do”. It’s a wake-up call for patients who have a critical role to play in understanding and weighing up benefits and risks for ourselves, in order to get better treatment. And it’s a further reminder of the importance of shared decision making to reach a healthcare choice together, as opposed to clinicians making decisions on behalf of patients.

However, understanding the risks associated with a treatment is not necessarily straight-forward. The challenge for busy clinicians is that there isn’t always the time to read and digest the latest research to inform their practice. Medical commentator, physician, and cancer survivor, Elaine Schattner, believes that because medical knowledge changes so rapidly it’s hard for clinicians to keep pace. “This may be especially true in oncology,” she points out, “as patients become expert in their own conditions and needs, they may prefer to look up information on their own, and share their findings with their physicians.”

A lengthy article published this month in ProPublica, examines what it calls “an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatment” requested by patients and delivered by doctors, even after current research contradicts its practice. “It is distressingly ordinary for patients to get treatments that research has shown are ineffective or even dangerous”, writes David Epstein. “Some procedures are implemented based on studies that did not prove whether they really worked in the first place. Others were initially supported by evidence but then were contradicted by better evidence, and yet these procedures have remained the standards of care for years, or decades.” Epstein points to a 2013 study which examined all 363 articles published in The New England Journal of Medicine over a decade — 2001 through 2010 — that tested a current clinical practice. Their results, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found 146 studies that proved or strongly suggested that a current standard practice either had no benefit at all or was inferior to the practice it replaced. Of course, this is not to say that myriad treatments don’t indeed improve and save lives, but it’s important to ask questions and do your own research before making a decision on which treatment is the best for you.

Start by asking your doctor to explain all the treatment options open to you, including what would happen if you do nothing. Recognise that all treatments are inevitably associated with some risk of possible harm. Ask your doctor to quantify that risk beyond a purely descriptive term, such as “low risk” (what your doctor considers a small and acceptable risk may be unacceptable to you). Next, do your own research. In order to make an informed decision, you will need to gather reliable information on which to base your choice. Fully exploring the risks and benefits of treatment involves doing your own evidence-based research (using evidence from medical studies that have looked at what happens to many thousands of people with your condition). In a previous article, I shared with you some helpful guidelines for assessing medical information. Most media reports about the benefits of treatments present risk results as relative risk reductions rather than absolute risk reductions, so you will need to understand the difference. Absolute risk of a disease is your risk of developing the disease over a time period. We all have absolute risks of developing various diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, etc. Relative risk is used to compare the risk in two different groups of people. For example, research has shown that smokers have a higher risk of developing heart disease compared to non-smokers. Ask your doctor to differentiate between absolute and relative risk. Check out the NNT website which provides non-biased summaries of evidence-based medicine. “NNT” stands for a statistical concept called the “Number-Needed-to-Treat” – as in “How many patients need to be treated with a drug or procedure for one patient to get the hoped-for benefit?” The core value of the NNT is its straightforward communication of the science that can help us understand the likelihood that a patient will be helped, harmed, or unaffected by a treatment. It provides a measurement of the impact of a medicine or therapy by estimating the number of patients that need to be treated in order to have an impact on one person. Because we know that not everyone is helped by a medicine or intervention — some benefit, some are harmed, and some are unaffected, the NNT tells us how many of each.

You may also want to hear about what other people with your condition have chosen to do and what their experience has been. But remember that just because something has/hasn’t worked for someone else, it doesn’t mean it will/won’t work for you. Orthopedic surgeon, Dr Nicholas DiNubile, recommends patients ask their doctors, “If this were you, or one of your immediate family members, what would you do and/or recommend?” While this may be useful, you must ultimately decide what benefits and risks are important to you. Can you tolerate the side-effects? Are you happy with the way the treatment is administered? Would you find it stressful to live with the risk of any serious side effects, even if the risk is small? What matters is whether you think that the benefits outweigh the risk of any side effects. Everyone is different. The treatment recommended for you may not be the best treatment for your particular lifestyle. Being an advocate for your own health care involves asking lots of questions, doing your own research, and making your preferences known to your doctor. By doing this, you will be better informed and in a stronger position to get the treatment that is right for you.


Related Reading
Clinicians’ Expectations of Treatments, Screening, and Test Benefit and Harm
The three questions that every patient should ask their doctor
Strategies to help patients understand risks

ePatient Virtual Courses

The ePatient virtual classrooms are designed to empower patients in all their healthcare matters.

ePatient 101

ePatient101: How to be an Empowered Patient, is an online course for anyone interested in becoming an empowered patient, empowered caregiver, or patient advocate. Through this online course taught by Alex Barfuss, you will learn:

  • The meaning of the term “ePatient”
  • Why being an ePatient is so important in today’s healthcare system
  • How you can save time and money and get better overall value from your health care providers
  • How to advocate for yourself
  • Tools, tips and best practices to help manage your or your loved one’s chronic disease

Caregiver 101

Caregiver 101 is full of useful tools for caregivers and taught by Caregiving.com founder, Denise Brown. By taking this course, you will learn:

  • How the carer/caree relationship can be a health relationship
  • How to find balance
  • How to find more time for your self
  • How to ask for support
  • Tips, tools, and tactics to be a better carer/caree
  • Curated links and resources
  • Videos
  • Knowledge quizzes
  • Support from a community of caregivers at cargiving.com

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) 101

We are excited to be partnering up with Intake.me to bring you CLL 101. We wanted anyone struggling with a recent CLL diagnosis to become empowered through knowledge and support. By taking this course, you will receive:

  • An overview of CLL
  • Facts about CLL
  • Curated links and resources
  • Videos
  • Knowledge quizzes
  • Printable checklists with questions to ask your doctor
  • Why you should immediately get a second, expert opinion
  • Tips on building your healthcare team, and how your local doctor can work with a CLL expert to provide the best treatment
  • Where to find the latest CLL research, clinical trials, and other treatment options
  • Ability to ask questions from other CLL 101 students

These courses are part of the Intake.me experience and are free to everyone. You can sign up be clicking one of the buttons below. Enjoy!

Mobile Doctor’s Appointments? Do They Work?

Dr. On Demand Dashboard

Dr. On Demand Dashboard

Hate the doctor’s office and don’t want to go to Urgent Care or the E.R.? There’s an app for that. Doctor On Demand is a mobile application that allows you to have a video appointment with a doctor from your own home. On their website they claim, “At Doctor On Demand we provide fast, easy and cost-effective access to some of the best doctors, psychologists, and other healthcare providers in the country. Our patients can have Video Visits with these providers on their smartphone or computers at any time of day.” Recently a friend of mine used this app for the first time because of a strange lump in her armpit, so I decided to sit in to see what it was all about and if it can actually replace an in-person visit.

Before

First thing you do is download the app, create an account, and fill out your health and insurance information. Then, you are given the option to choose a specific doctor or specific time. If you chose the specific time route, you are assigned a doctor. My friend chose a specific time and told me that it was a very easy, user-friendly process. To prepare for the appointment, you fill out all your symptoms and take pictures of your problem (if applicable) to have on hand. I asked my friend why they chose Doctor On Demand over a traditional doctor, Urgent Care, or E.R., and she said this way she won’t have to waste time stuck in a doctor’s office, could be seen quicker, and the appointment times worked better with her work schedule. However, she was hesitant because the doctor would not be able to feel or see the issue in person, which may affect the diagnosis.

During

Once your call begins, the doctor begins by reviewing your chart before coming on camera. Next, the doctor comes on camera and asks to explain the problem and the symptoms she was having. The appointment is set up like a FaceTime call. The doctor assigned to my friend was very friendly and attentive. This when those photos you took beforehand are useful because then she asked my friend to upload the photos for her to look at.

After

After the issue was thoroughly explained, the doctor was unable to diagnose what was going on without further testing. She did explain the several possibilities of what could be occurring and what tests may be needed. However, in the end the doctor did recommend that my friend go see a doctor in-person to get an accurate diagnosis.

Overall

In conclusion, my friend was reassured that it didn’t require immediate attention and that she shouldn’t worry. She also felt better and more relax about the few days it would be before she could be seen by a doctor. She and I would both recommend using Dr. On Demand, especially for the simpler alignments, such as colds, because the doctors are able to write prescriptions to your local pharmacy saving you the time wasted in a waiting room. My friend had this to say about her overall experience:

“This was a quick solution to put my mind at ease that something more serious was not going on before I was able to schedule an in-person doctor’s appointment”

15 Tips To Get the Most From Your Doctor’s Visit

beautyHave you ever had the experience of leaving the doctor’s office wishing you had remembered to ask a certain question? Or have you left it until the very end to tell your doctor about the real reason for your visit? These so-called “doorknob” questions – bringing up an important concern just as you are leaving the office – can mean your doctor won’t have time to adequately address your concerns. When the average time it takes for a doctor’s visit is fifteen minutes, it’s easy to feel rushed and forget what you wanted to say, or to leave an appointment unsure of the information you have heard. But with a little advance preparation you can learn how to make the most of those fifteen minutes. Follow these fifteen tips to become a more empowered and engaged partner in your own health – and the health of those you care for.

1. When you call to make your appointment, explain clearly why you need to see the doctor. Let the receptionist know how much time you will need to schedule for the visit. If you have any special needs, such as wheelchair access or interpretive needs, let the office know in advance.

2. Be sure to that where you make your appointment accepts your insurance. You can call or go online to your insurance website to see a directory of in-network providers.

3. If this is your first visit to a new physician, gather together any past medical records and family medical history to take along with you.  If you’re seeing other doctors and have information they’ve provided, bring this along too.

4. Write down a list of your symptoms before the visit. It’s a good idea to keep a diary so you can chart your symptoms over time. Include details of the type of symptoms you are experiencing, when these symptoms began, and what makes them better or worse.

Use this common medical mnemonic to guide you.

(O)-P-Q-R-S-T

  • Pain (“Where does it hurt?”)
  • Quality (“What does it feel like?”)
  • Radiation (“Does it move anywhere?”)
  • Scale (“How bad is it? How much does it affect you?”)
  • Timing (“When did it start? How long does it last? Does it come and go? Is it gradual or sudden in onset? What makes it better or worse?”)
  • Other (“Any other symptoms?”)

5. Set the agenda at the start of your visit. Did you know that a patient has an average of 23 seconds to state their concerns before a physician interrupts? According to an article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, only 28% of doctors know their patient’s full spectrum of concerns before they begin to focus on one particular concern, and once the conversation is focused, the likelihood of returning to other concerns is only 8%. Doctors have a limited amount of time for office visits. In order to use their time wisely they usually set the agenda and control the visit as much as possible. To avoid this happening to you, prepare in advance the top two or three concerns you want to raise with your doctor. Are you looking for a diagnosis? Do you need a new treatment plan or a modification of an existing plan? Are you looking for help with feelings of fatigue or depression? Don’t forget to describe your emotional state and any personal circumstances which may influence your physical health. Write down your main concerns so you are ready to verbalize them clearly at the beginning of  your visit.

6. If you use a self-tracking device, like a Fitbit, download your data and summarize the findings beforehand.

7. Bring a list of all medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbs, or supplements. If you have a smart phone or tablet, it’s useful to take pictures of your medication and supplement labels to show the doctor.

8. During your visit, tell your doctor you would like to take notes. If you would prefer to record your notes via your smartphone, ask your doctor if it is ok to do so.

9. Medical care is a conversation. So to have influence in that conversation you have to speak up. If you don’t want the treatment your doctor recommends (or you’re not sure), it’s reasonable to ask if there are other treatment options available. Never be embarrassed to tell your doctor if you don’t understand something she has said. Sometimes doctors use medical jargon without realizing they are not explaining things in terms we understand. Repeat what the doctor has told you to be sure you understand and ask for clarification if needed

10. If you find it difficult to speak up for yourself, or you are facing a potentially challenging diagnosis, bring a friend or family member along for support. This person can also take notes and help you remember what was discussed later.

11. Always be honest with your doctor. You may not like to admit how much you drink, or smoke, or if you have stopped taking your medication because of expense or side effects, but your doctor needs to know about these and other lifestyle matters to ensure you are receiving optimum care.

12. Ask you doctor to explain any test results to you, Request a copy of the results for your own files.

13. Before you leave, be sure you understand what needs to happen next. Do you need any further diagnostic tests? When will you get the results? If you have just received a diagnosis, what are your treatment options? If you have questions or concerns later how should you contact your doctor? You can also ask if your doctor recommends any specific reading materials or websites about your condition.

14. If you have been given a prescription for a new medication, do you understand how and when the medication should be taken? Are there any side-effects, for example drowsiness, you should watch for? How will you know if the medication is working? What happens if you miss a dose?

15. After your visit, review and file your notes along with any test results or other documentation and billing you received. Schedule any follow up tests or appointments right away.

Your relationship with your doctor is one of the most important you have. Advance preparation will help you use your own time and your doctor’s time more efficiently and effectively. When people take an active role in their care, research shows they are more satisfied and do better in how well treatments work. Preparing for your doctor’s visit is an important step toward becoming a partner in your own health care and a better advocate for your health and well-being.

Least Invasive First

Dr. Winn Sams

Dr. Winn Sams

Editor’s Note: This blog was written by Winn Sams, D.C. Dr. Sams practices in Columbus, NC a small town snuggled in the foothills of the western part of the state.  A native of Charlotte, NC with a B.A. in Economics from the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, Dr. Sams graduated from Sherman College of Chiropractic in 2002 summa cum laude and valedictorian of her class. From her own experience where personal health directives and choices were not heard nor respected, she decided to create a site where uniqueness and diversity could be anchored in healthcare. Being a healthcare provider, she knew how important it is for the “whole” person to be not only known, but included in a plan of care. Thus, Least Invasive First was born.


Recently, my youngest daughter broke her right arm and dislocated her elbow. The ER referred her out to an orthopedist nearby. We showed up at the appointment with a lot of questions and wanting to know what our options were. The doctor entered the room, did not make eye contact with me nor my daughter’s friend, who was sitting next to me. His handshake was a mere extension of his hand to us (friend and myself), kind of like a king might do to his subjects to kiss his ring. He said he would like to order a CT scan of my daughter’s elbow and do surgery. I asked were there any other options and he said “No” and that he would be back in a few minutes. He never came back, but his nurse showed up to schedule the surgery. I was furious and let her know my dissatisfaction, clearly acknowledging that it wasn’t her fault, but we would not be coming back.

Now, you have to understand I am a Doctor of Chiropractic. I see patients every day and I would never treat anyone the way we were treated. There was no informed consent , no shared decision making in developing a treatment and no respect for who my daughter was (or us for that matter) as a unique person seeking care. EVERYONE deserves all of the above! So, we left that office and made an appointment with another Orthopedist, who was absolutely fabulous. Our experience was night and day from the first one. We felt like we were a part of creating our plan of care, throughout the whole appointment and were at peace with the planned surgery, leaving there feeling like we were in good hands.

My concern is this. When we are in pain or an emergency situation, we usually are not thinking straight. We just want someone to help us get out of pain and/or tell us what is wrong. We may accept the first Doctor that we encounter, as he/she knows more than us. As far as what a Doctor is taught in school, the knowledge of how the body works and their expertise/experience, that is true. HOWEVER,  the patient still has to be included in the whole process, otherwise, you are giving your power over to someone to do as they deem fit TO you. That is a recipe for disaster.

Data and evidence based science measure outcomes that can be repeated. That is a big help when trying to choose a plan of action, but healing and how our bodies RESPOND to said procedures or medications is not an exact science. This is where our uniqueness comes in. Some people are allergic to medications or do not need to start out with the highest dose, as their bodies may actually react unfavorably to what may be the standard practice. Some people would like to try other options first, if possible. In the best interest of all, seeing how that choice works and then moving on to more invasive choices if necessary. It is imperative that your Doctor know as much about ALL of you to make the best plan of care. But, you don’t have to back down or be ashamed of your choices if they don’t match up with your provider’s. Remember, a Doctor is only a person ( yes, just a person like you and I) who has certain training and experience in particular fields. You cannot assume that your Doctor has your best care in mind, when they don’t have a clear picture of who you are on all fronts.

So, with all of this in mind, I developed a site called Least Invasive First, www.leastinvasivefirst.org, where you can keep all of your advance health directives and info in one place, with everything digitally accessible at any time. You can upload forms and/or pictures into your profile that provide information, that in especially stressful times, you have available at the click of a button. Medications can be listed with dosage, so you can edit them as they change. You can also give your username and password information to a family member, so they have access to your information if you are unresponsive or not able to make decisions for yourself. There are a lot of creative ways that this service can be used.

Fortunately, this concept works well for the Doctor and/or hospital side too. I have interviewed many of both and all have voiced a resounding affirmation that information the patient provides would be a tremendous help. I am glad to offer a way to potentially change healthcare and it starts with you!

 

 

 

What Records Should You Bring For A Second Opinion Appointment?

From the Lung Cancer Town Meeting in September 2016, Janet Freeman-Daily interviews a panel of lung cancer experts about what are the essential records patients should bring to their appointment when getting a second opinion. The panel includes the following experts:

  • Nisha Monhindra, MD Assistant Professor of Medicine, Hematology/Oncology Division, Feinberg School of Medicine Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University
  • D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, Director Thoracic Oncology Clinical and Clinical Research Programs University of Colorado Denver
  • David D. Odell, MD, MMSc, Assistant Professor, Thoracic Surgery Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University
  • Timothy J. Kruser, MD, Assistant Professor, Radiation Oncology Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Check out the full video below to hear all of the experts advice.

What Records Should Your Bring For A Second Opinion Appointment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Getting A Second Opinion From A Rural Location?

From a Town Meeting in September 2016, Janet Freeman-Daily interviews a panel of cancer experts about how patients in rural or remote locations can get second or multidisciplinary opinions from larger facilities or academic institutes. The panel includes the following experts:

  • Nisha Monhindra, MD Assistant Professor of Medicine, Hematology/Oncology Division, Feinberg School of Medicine Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University
  • D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, Director Thoracic Oncology Clinical and Clinical Research Programs University of Colorado Denver
  • David D. Odell, MD, MMSc, Assistant Professor, Thoracic Surgery Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University
  • Timothy J. Kruser, MD, Assistant Professor, Radiation Oncology Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Check out the full video below to hear all the experts advice.

 

Getting A Second Opinion From A Rural Location? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Finding The Right Oncologist For You

finding-the-right-oncologist-for-youWhen you put your life in someone else’s hands, you need to feel completely comfortable and confident with that person – especially when that person is your oncologist. How do you go about finding the right one for you?

One of the best ways to find an oncologist is through referrals from people you trust, such as your primary care physician, family, friends, local hospitals or your insurance company. Many insurance plans allow their members to search doctors by name or specialty. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) provides a free, searchable database of ASCO member oncologists. These doctors opt to make their information available to the public.

Other medical associations offering searchable databases:

Once you have collected and written down a few possible oncologists’ names, remember to ask yourself these three questions:

What are their credentials?

Board certification is one of the most important factors you should consider when choosing an oncologist. It assures you that the doctor has the necessary training, skills, and experience to provide healthcare in oncology. Additionally, choose a doctor that treats your specific type of cancer and has related experience with that disease. The more experience the doctor has with a certain cancer, the better your outcome will likely be. Your doctor’s hospital is your hospital, so don’t forget to research the quality of care offered at that location as well.

What blend of traits are important to you?

Languages spoken, gender, and education may be important to you. You may also have strong feelings about personality and bedside manner. Some people want their doctors to have a business-like manner, while others value a doctor who can help with their emotional health as well as their medical needs. Whatever your preferences, the most important thing is finding an oncologist with whom you are comfortable.

What is their communication style?

Choose a doctor that values and respects your questions and answers you in a way that you can understand. Clarity and candor are highly important characteristics for a doctor. Make sure that your doctor values both shared decision-making and the best available clinical evidence, as well as your personal values and preferences throughout your treatment.

Once you have found a doctor that meets all the above criteria, ask him or her for an introductory phone call before scheduling an appointment. You should interview your potential oncologist the same way you would interview a lawyer or an accountant. Don’t be afraid to set-up introductory calls or appointments with a few oncologists for comparison. You may also want to consider the size of your doctor’s staff and accessibility to clinical trials.

Alongside considering size of practice, clinical trials or proximity to home, make certain that your new oncologist is someone you can work closely with and trust. Your new doctor will become the most valuable member of your cancer team, so it is imperative that you choose a doctor with whom you are comfortable.


Resources:

http://www.cancer.net

https://www.healthgrades.com/explore/8-tips-for-choosing-an-oncologist

http://www.cancer.org/treatment/findingandpayingfortreatment/choosingyourtreatmentteam/choosing-a-doctor-and-a-hospital

Shared Decision Making: Putting the Patient At The Center of Medical Care

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” – Benjamin Franklin

As gravity shifts away from health care providers as the sole keeper of medical information, the importance of sharing decisions, as opposed to clinicians making decisions on behalf of patients, has been increasingly recognized. Shared decision- making (SDM) is the conversation that happens between a patient and clinician to reach a healthcare choice together. Examples include decisions about surgery, medications, self-management, and screening and diagnostic tests. While the process commonly involves a clinician and patient, other members of the health care team or friends and family members may also be invited to participate. The clinician provides current, evidence-based information about treatment options, describing their risks and benefits; and the patient expresses his or her preferences and values. It is thus a communication approach that seeks to balance clinician expertise with patient preference.

Dr Mohsin Choudry describes shared decision-making as “a way of transforming the conversation between doctors and their patients so that the thoughts, concerns and especially the preferences of individuals are placed more equally alongside the clinician’s expertise, experience and skills.” Before physicians can really know what the proper treatment is for a patient, they must understand the particular needs of their patients. This approach recognises that clinicians and patients bring different but equally important forms of expertise to the decision-making process. The clinician’s expertise is based on knowledge of the disease, likely prognosis, tests and treatment; patients are experts on how a disease impacts their daily life, and their values and preferences. For some medical decisions, there is one clearly superior treatment path (for example, acute appendicitis necessitates surgery); but for many decisions there is more than one option in which attendant risks and benefits need to be assessed. In these cases the patient’s own priorities are important in reaching a treatment decision. Patients may hold a view that one treatment option fits their lifestyle better than another. This view may be different from the clinician’s.  Shared decision-making recognises a patient’s right to make these decisions, ensuring they are fully informed about the options they face. In its definition of shared decision-making, the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation ,  a non-profit that promotes evidence-based shared decision-making, describes the model as “honoring both the provider’s expert knowledge and the patient’s right to be fully informed of all care options and the potential harms and benefits. This process provides patients with the support they need to make the best individualized care decisions, while allowing providers to feel confident in the care they prescribe.”

By explicitly recognising a patient’s right to make decisions about their care, SDM can help ensure that care is truly patient-centered. In Making Shared Decision-Making A Reality: No Decision About Me Without Me, the authors recommend that shared decision-making in the context of a clinical consultation should:

  • support patients to articulate their understanding of their condition and of what they hope treatment (or self-management support) will achieve;
  • inform patients about their condition, about the treatment or support options available, and about the benefits and risks of each;
  • ensure that patients and clinicians arrive at a decision based on mutual understanding of this information;
  • record and implement the decision reached.Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 4.43.27 AM

The most important attribute of patient-centered care is the active engagement of patients in decisions about their care.
“No decision about me, without me” can only be realised by involving patients fully in their own care, with decisions made in partnership with clinicians, rather than by clinicians alone. This has been endorsed by the Salzburg Statement on Shared Decision Making, authored by 58 representatives from 18 countries, which states that clinicians have an ethical imperative to share important decisions with patients. Clinical encounters should always include a two-way flow of information, allowing patients to ask questions, explain their circumstances and express their preferences. Clinicians must provide high quality information, tailored to the patient’s needs and they should allow patients sufficient time to consider their options. Similarly, in Shared Decision Making: A Model for Clinical Practice, the authors argue that achieving shared decision-making depends on building a good relationship in the clinical encounter so that patients, carers and clinicians work together, in equal partnership, to make decisions and agree a care plan. According to the Mayo Clinic Shared Decision Making National Resource Center, this model involves “developing a partnership based on empathy, exchanging information about the available options, deliberating while considering the potential consequences of each one, and making a decision by consensus.” Good communication can help to build rapport, respect and trust between patients and health professionals and it is especially important when decisions are being made about treatment.

Decision Aids

One of the most important requirements for decision-making is information. There are a number of tools available to support the process such as information sheets, DVDs, interactive websites, cates plots or options grids. Decision aids that are based on research evidence are designed to show information about different options and help patients reach an informed choice. The Mayo Clinic has been developing its own decision aids since 2005 and distributing them free of charge to other health care providers. For instance, Mayo’s Diabetes Medication Choice Decision Aid helps patients choose among the six medications commonly used to treat type-2 diabetes. Patients choose the issues that are most important to them, for example, blood sugar control or method of administration —and then work with their physicians to make comparisons among the drugs, based on the chosen criterion.

Discussing their options and preferences with health professionals enables patients to understand their choices better and feel they have made a decision which is right for them. Research studies have found that people who take part in decisions have better health outcomes (such as controlled high blood pressure) and are more likely to stick to a treatment plan, than those who do not.  A 2012 Cochrane review of 86 randomized trials found that patients who use decision aids improve their knowledge of their treatment options, have more accurate expectations of the potential benefits and risks, reach choices that accord with their values, and more actively participate in decision making. Instead of elective surgery, patients using decision aids opt for conservative options more often than those not using decision aids.

Barriers to Shared Decision-Making

Barriers to shared decision-making include poor communication, for example doctors using medical terminology which is incomprehensible to patients; lack of information and low health literacy levels. It is worth noting that not everyone wants to be involved in shared decision making with their doctors; and not every doctor wants to take the time. Some patients come from cultural backgrounds that lack a tradition of individuals making autonomous decisions. Some health professionals may think they are engaged in shared decision-making even when they are not.

Shared Decision-Making – An Ethical Imperative

With this proviso in mind, it is nevertheless clear that the tide is turning toward more active patient participation in decisions about health care. Research has shown that when patients know they have options for the best treatment, screening test, or diagnostic procedure, most of them will want to participate with their clinicians in making the choice. A systematic review of patient preferences for shared decision making indicates 71% of patients in studies after 2000 preferred sharing decision roles, compared to 50% of studies before 2000.  The most important reason for practising shared decision-making is that it is the right thing to do. The Salzburg Statement goes so far as to say it is an ethical imperative and failure to facilitate shared decision-making in the clinical encounter should be taken as evidence of poor quality care. Evidence for the benefits of shared decision-making is mounting. Providing patients with current, evidence-based information, relevant decision aids and giving them time to explore their options and work through their concerns, will help patients choose a treatment route which best suits their needs and preferences, and ultimately lead to better health outcomes for all.

Frederique’s Lung Cancer Story

This post was originally published on MyLifeLine.org. MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation connects MyLifeLine logocancer patients and caregivers to their community of family and friends for social and emotional support. We provide unique communication and stress reducing tools that allow patients and caregivers to share their journey and focus on healing. To learn more, visit MyLifeLine.org and check out the MyLifeLine.org blog.

Frederique was with her son when she started speaking strangely; she wasn’t finishing her sentences and her words weren’t making sense. She didn’t realize it was happening but her son was alarmed and contacted his dad and emergency medical services. The next day, Frederique learned she had tumors in her lung and brain. Her diagnosis was  Stage IV  lung cancer which had metastasized in the brain.

“We fear cancer so much as a society that when you find you have it, you just have to face it,” Frederique recalled upon learning her diagnosis. “The fear was gone.”

Two rounds of chemotherapy, two gamma knife sessions and three rounds of radiation were part of her treatment process over the two years she has been diagnosed , and she is now looking into a clinical trial.

Although she doesn’t know if she will ever be cancer-free, Frederique chooses to look at her cancer journey as an adventure, see the joy in her experiences and live a normal life. She does power yoga, exercises through hikes and walks, and even traveled to France, all while living with cancer.

“There is a disconnect with this diagnosis and how my body is doing. I really do live a normal life,” Frederique explained.

Frederique MLLEarly on, she created what she calls a “healing circle” to help her and her family throughout her cancer experience. She used MyLifeLine.org to share her story and coordinate volunteers.

“I think the technology is amazing. It helps me not only to receive support but also to give hope around me. Staying vibrant and positive throughout such a challenge seems to be inspiring for people. I am delighted that my experience can be of service that way,” she said.

Frederique’s advice for others facing a cancer diagnosis is to find a way to relieve the fear. “Cancer is such a fearful event, especially stage IV,” Frederique explained. “Find a way to ­not be scared of the disease. In my opinion, fear is detrimental to the healing process.” She keeps the fear at bay by meditating and connecting with the energy around her (yoga, chi gong, reiki), but she explained that anybody can find their own way of relieving the fear.

“I could live this journey in total fear and be in a dark mood all of the time, but then I would lose precious time. Yes, I have days where I am scared or sad but most of the time I prefer to live in joy,” Frederique said.

Thanks to the cancer, Frederique rediscovered herself, deepened her connections to others and shifted to a new understanding of the world. “I’ve never been happier, to be honest. I’m where I’m supposed to be now,” she reflected.