MPN Whole Patient Support Archives

MPN can unleash a whirlwind of unexpected emotions and experiences for patients and care partners. You are more than just a patient; more than just a treatment plan.

Whether your concerns are physical, emotional, nutritional, or spiritual, we can help.

More resources for Myeloproliferative Neoplasms (MPN) Whole Patient Support from Patient Empowerment Network.

How Can I Get the Best Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) Care?

How Can I Get the Best Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 There are many exciting developments in the myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) research pipeline, but how can patients get the best possible MPN care? Internationally respected MPN expert Dr. Claire Harrison from Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital in London shares information about research updates, treatment strategies, clinical trials, and how to achieve patient-centered care for you or your loved one.

See More from Best MPN Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resources:

How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Hello and welcome. My name is Dr. Nicole Rochester, I’m a pediatrician and a professional health advocate, and your host for today’s Patient Empowerment Network program. We are thrilled that you have decided to tune in. With so many exciting developments in the research pipeline from myeloproliferative neoplasms or MPNs. We’re going to answer several important questions during today’s program, how can you as a patient access the best possible MPN care? Will there be alternative treatment strategies for MPN patients who have failed previous therapies? Should you consider a clinical trial as a path to enhancing your care? Whether you’re living with polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia or myelofibrosis, we have so much to unpack and we are joined by world-renowned and highly respected MPN expert, Dr. Claire Harrison. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Harrison, it’s an honor and a privilege to join with you.

Dr. Claire Harrison:

It’s a great pleasure and it’s a privilege to join you as well.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Following this program, you will receive a survey and we’d be delighted if you take some time to provide your feedback that helps inform future MPN programs that we produce. Please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical care, so please be sure to connect with your healthcare team to determine what is best for you. Now, let’s dive right into this very important topic, how can you get the best myeloproliferative neoplasm care. 

Dr. Harrison, we know that the treatment landscape for MPN is rapidly changing and keeping up with the pace of the developments can be challenging both for healthcare professionals and certainly for patients and their families, so I was wondering if you can give us a general overview of the treatment landscape and maybe highlight anything that’s new and in development that you think would be helpful for the audience.

Dr. Claire Harrison:

Well, sure, I think this is obviously really interesting, very important. It’s a fast-moving field. And one of the first changes actually completely hot off the press is a brand new diagnostic criteria that has been produced by two separate groups that are shortly about to be published, kind of just seeing pre-published and those of us that have been privileged to be involved, have seen them. So that’s gonna really focus the mind of clinicians on how do we achieve the diagnosis, and that’s the first thing that’s really important, get an accurate diagnosis, don’t just accept well, you’ve got an MPN, actually, it’s really important to know what type you’ve got. 

Maybe as much do you tell as possible in terms of the genetic mutation or change that underlies the disease, because that is increasingly important in what we call prognostication, understanding what the risk of events happening due to the disease actually is. When we make a diagnosis, we sometimes can’t be accurate and we might have to go back and revisit them, so some patients don’t get a PV, ET or MF diagnosis, they might get an MPN unclassified. That’s okay, but it’s important to keep revisiting that.

Once we’ve made a diagnosis, then it’s really important to think about what the risk is to the patient, and we’ve had some changes to our risk classifications recently, right from the ET end of the spectrum where we’re thinking more and more actually, those patients who are under the age of 60 with a lower count and the CALR mutation, do we even need to give you aspirin because we might be increasing the risk of bleeding. 

To the other end of the spectrum for patients with myelofibrosis, a more aggressive disease, we want to know more about your mutational profile, so we’re doing more powerful genomic tests and assessing them, your prognosis, and then what the features of your disease are that need treatment. And there are lots of changes, which I think we’ll get into later in our conversation here and lots of new options, which are really important, I just also don’t to leave this segment without saying to all of you who are listening, it’s important that you understand your disease, it’s important that you understand the diagnosis, prognosis, etcetera, and you get the best care.

But that’s maybe not enough, you need to know that you’re taking good care of you, and that’s something that’s really important to all of us, so you need to know that you’re managing your vascular risk don’t just think about your blood. Think about the fact that you know if you’re smoking, quit smoking, if you’re drinking too much, cut it down, if you’re not walking enough,  walk more, lose weight. The majority of patients with MPN actually have a problem with a blood clot, not a further complication of their disease, so maybe we’ll stop there and then we can dive in a bit more deeply

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you, I appreciate you pointing out the changes with the diagnosis. I’m really excited to learn more about that, and also pointing out the importance of self-care and some of the other risk factors that individuals with MPN can mitigate. So I think that’s extremely important. Can you share a little about what’s in the robust pipeline of potential therapies for patients with MPN, what is it that you’re excited about? And is the future bright in this area?

Dr. Claire Harrison:

I think the future is really bright from the point of view of de-escalating treatment as well as newer treatment, so I think it’s important to point that because all treatments have potential complications inside of it, so as we understand that some of these conditions may have very low risk for patients, it’s important to understand that, and de-intensify, I call that calreticulin (post ET?), I would also call out ET, essential thrombocythemia, which lacks a known driver mutation, so-called triple-negative ET, emerging data suggests that may have very low risk for patients, but what you all want to hear about, of course, is what’s new treatment-wise. So I think just to call out, I’m really excited that there will be a new trial this year for ET patients with Bomedemstat, which is an LSD-1 inhibitor, new target, new molecule. We’ve been testing it in myelofibrosis and we’ve tested it now in a bunch of patients with ET, and it seems to be very efficiently reducing the platelet count not affecting hemoglobin and patients appear to get a good benefit with regard to fatigue, which we know is the number one symptom for patients with MPN, so I’m excited about that because it’s been a long time since we’ve had a new treatment for patients with ET. And then for patients with PV, increasingly across the globe, the availability of this newer formulation of interferon, Besremi is becoming more available and the latest data with that agent suggests that it may be superior to standard therapy such as hydroxyurea, hydroxycarbamide in terms of clotting, et cetera, is really important.

Interestingly, and we may both have to think back to our med school days on this, we’ve been targeting the iron pathway in for patients with PV. So I always tell my patients with PV, do not let anyone give you iron tablets without speaking to one of our team because that’s like putting oxygen on the fire, it’s like feeding the red cell production. So there is a new agent called Rusfertide PTG-300, which targets the iron pathway and allows iron to build up in the body, but it doesn’t allow it to get to the bone marrow and so, this is a new treatment for PV patients, which might reduce the need for iron removal by phlebotomy or venesection, and has been also shown to give symptomatic benefit, and then of course, there’s a bunch of new treatments for patients with myelofibrosis, that’s probably the busiest part of the portfolio at the moment. 

We’ve just seen positive data with me Momelotinib, which is one of the fourth JAK inhibitors, very strong data from the momentum study, good results in patients even with low platelet counts down to 25, and then I’m really excited to see strong data coming with Navitoclax and Pelabresib, which are other agents targeted at are the pathways in myelofibrosis and then finally, in Denmark, they’ve been looking at vaccination strategies, and I know my patients are really interested in vaccination and (inaudible). I don’t have anything new to say (inaudible), but I do have something new to say on vaccination.

So in Denmark, they’ve been looking at producing a vaccination against the calreticulin mutation Nicole, because it’s expressed on the surface of the blood cells, so antibodies can find it. So this is ongoing, no positive result as yet, but it’s still ongoing and there are newer taking off with regards to vaccination structures, and I think that’s really exciting.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow, there is a lot on the horizon for MPN patients. That is extremely exciting, Dr. Harrison, how can patients best keep up with the new treatments and communicate with their doctors in a way that makes sure that they have access to these new therapies?

Dr. Claire Harrison:

Well, I think patient advocacy groups are really important here, and use of social media and the internet, you’re only a few clicks away from updated data, programs like these, but you also have to trust your team and trust your doctor. We all have to keep up to date. That is a professional requirement, and we also are all networked, so I’d probably get 10-15 emails a day from colleagues saying, Hi Claire, can I talk to you about this? There was an email just the other day about a patient in Washington, actually a very young child, we are all connected. 

We all want the best for our patients. But do you remember that you can contribute as a patient to advance this in your field, and I know many patients are really interested in this, if you are asked to submitting a blood sample, giving permission for us to use your data. So if we can touch maybe on the field of real world data and real-world data collection here would be good, so what about the real world data? What does that mean? And so this is becoming a really important way that’s recognized by the FDA and other approval agencies in the world, so in Europe, we have EMEA for example, and in the UK, we have NHRA as a way of collecting data on agents, so once they are approved, we collect data with regard to how the patients do. 

We’ve traditionally done this, but increasingly, as we use electronic data for our patients, we’re more able to collect real-world data, how does my patient who is with myelofibrosis on Ruxolitinib in my clinic inside East London do. So if we can pull that data, we learn a lot more about how these agents are working in patients outside of clinical trial, so you will be contributing if you allow us to collect that kind of data, we discovered JAK2 mutations, CALR mutations, etcetera from samples collected from patients and data. If you want to be part of a clinical trial, then by all means, ask your healthcare team, many MPN centers have lists of trials, and you can always look at clinicaltrials.gov, but boy you throw up a lot of different options when you search in that… On that website.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you. I think it’s important to talk about real-world data because in this day and age, many of us are very protective about our personal health information and we should be, but as you stated, having access to that data is really a key way to advance the science and technology in the treatment of some of these conditions, so I really appreciate you sharing that.

Dr. Claire Harrison:

I think just to point out, and I’m sure the audience is acutely aware of what we learn about COVID? We learned an awful lot about COVID from real-world data from all you MPN patients who gave samples, who told us about how you did with COVID, that’s how we learned about what happened to patients during covid with MPN, how they responded to vaccination, etcetera. It’s really powerful. And your data will be anonymized, it won’t be linked back to you, Nicole Rochester, or me, Claire Harrison it will be completely anonymous.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Absolutely, thanks for clarifying that. I want to go back to treatment strategies, you’ve mentioned earlier about low-risk versus high-risk patients, and that some of those criteria are changing. How are treatment strategies changing for low-risk and high-risk patients with MPN?

Dr. Claire Harrison:

It’s complicated because we need to think across the entities, and we don’t have an answer to that for patients with MPN unclassified and we don’t actually have a good answer to that for this entity called pre-fibrotic myelofibrosis which does appear and is strongly recognized in the new diagnostic criteria, but for ET, for example, low-risk patients I mentioned triple negative, calreticulin, m-positive, young patients, platelets less than 1500, not too much changing their queries about aspirin or not, and then for PV patients, we haven’t really changed all kind of high-risk criteria and for both ET and PV, the questionnaire is, should we use the treatment above aspirin or above aspirin (inaudible). And for the most part, that would be hydroxycarbamide, hydroxyurea, which is the commonest treatment used worldwide or Interferon, and these are the right treatment for some patients and not the right treatment for other patients, so some patients can be very fixated on interferon is the absolute best, but there is no clear evidence of that, and there are some patients who interferon is not the right treatment, but low versus high risk becomes even more important for myelofibrosis patients.

And here, we’re thinking about using a risky strategy like transplantation for those patients who have higher risk disease, and we’re using, as I mentioned to you, these molecular markers and newer prognostic tools to stratify patients, and it is important to remember is a patient leave if someone puts your data into a prognostic tool and that comes up with five years, but it doesn’t mean to say five years on the dot your times up, that’s an average. 

And if we put your data into a slightly different tool, we might get something else. So for the most part, we make decisions like transplants,  we are learning more about transplantation and outcomes from that, and then in some countries, some treatments are used for patients who fall into intermediate or high-risk categories, and some clinical trials are based on that as well. I would want to say about myelofibrosis, and something I think I would really like to see changed, not changing yet, but changed, is that we should be able to intervene for patients with a low-risk disease. If my myelofibrosis patients have breast cancer, we would not be going there, then you’ve got low-risk disease we’ll put you on watch and wait, watch and wait is really hard for our patients, we know that I can see you nodding.

Dr. Claire Harrison:

You know that too, right? So if these were patients with breast cancer we would not say, We’ll just watch and wait. So I would really like to see in the next five to 10 years a treatment that we could use earlier in the disease course, but there is nothing at the moment, but we’re looking at that. The other thing we’re looking at, if we’ve got a minute or so is the different endpoint, so we’re trying to understand what does it mean if you’re a (?), so the amount of abnormal genes you’ve got goes down, the amount of bone marrow fibrosis you’ve got goes down. And again, this is something we’ll collect in a clinical trial, but also from real-world data.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful. Wow, thank you. What about for patients who have failed therapies, are there any treatment strategies for MPN patients who have failed traditional therapies?

Dr. Claire Harrison:

Yes, in fact, actually, that’s where we’re evaluating new therapies across all of these entities, so if you’re a PV or an ET patient and you failed a therapy, then this is where, for example, in ET, we would be looking at Bomedemstat or we’re looking at the bromodomain inhibitor Pelabresib, and there’ll be other agents that we’ll be looking at, or we might be looking at vaccination. And for MF patients that while there are a bunch of different therapies for patients who you have not tolerated or progressed through standard therapy. So actually, there’s a lot of options, some of them are already approved and some of them are in clinical trials.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

And you mentioned clinical trials, and so I think this is a perfect opportunity to transition and start to talk more about clinical trials as a treatment option for NPM patients and really focusing on treatment access, what would you say are the unmet needs in access related to MPN and care, specifically as it relates to clinical trials, and what can we do to address those unmet needs?

Dr. Claire Harrison:

Well, I think there is a problem with rare diseases in terms of geographical access to trials, and we often find patients have to travel a long way. I know that’s true in North America as well as in Europe. And we’re very lucky in our geographical locations, but in some parts of the world, some companies or doing not open clinical trials, so I think there’s an access issue. I think also there is something about patients have to meet rigid entry criteria for clinical trials, and so oftentimes in myelofibrosis, for example, commonly patients who fail (?) have a lower platelet count, and that is often an exclusion criteria. Those criteria are there to try to get a uniform population of patients in a trial, but it can feel like you’re excluded as a patient, and it can feel very tough and for your health care team that we can’t include you in a clinical trial. We also have to remember that it is there for safety purposes, so if there is a lower limit for platelet count that’s often because the drug might affect platelet count. It is really important that we have a broad spectrum of trials available and that we try to increase the availability of trials for patients. 

I also want to say a word about inequality of access and thinking about accessing some different ethnicity, so often non-white and patients are under-represented in clinical trials, and I know that a focus in the UK and also in North America as well. And it is really important that patients have access to a clinical trial if they need it, and also that we understand how investigational products will work in people of different backgrounds. So for example, we know that probably Nicole, your blood count assuming it’s a healthy, normal blood count may well be different from mine for background, racial genetic differences, so drug metabolism might be different, so this is really important and we need to work hard as a community, the clinical community and the patient community to raise awareness and improve access for patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Well, as someone who does a lot of work in health equity, Dr. Harrison, I really appreciate you pointing that out. It’s certainly an issue here in the United States, as you mentioned, differential access to clinical trials, and we’ve learned that not only our patients, often not aware, but often the providers, at least here in the US, are not offering clinical trials as an option for patients from marginalized and minoritized communities. So I really appreciate you bringing that up. It’s said that clinical trials are tomorrow’s medicine today, and you’ve already kind of alluded to the importance of clinical trials as it relates to MPN. What would you say to an MPN patient who is on the fence or may be concerned or afraid of participating in a clinical trial?

Dr. Claire Harrison:

It’s right to be cautious and you know, careful because ultimately it’s a huge privilege as a clinician that involves patients in clinical trials that my patients trust me and trust my team to look after them with something that is experimental, but remember there are varying degrees of experimental most clinical trials are not first in man, you’re not a complete gene page, it may be a drug, for example, Levetoclax (?) is in clinical trials mainly for myelofibrosis also ET and PV but that is a drug that has been used for thousands of patients, for another indication so talk to your healthcare team, if you don’t find the answer from the primary person that you’re used to dealing with, find someone else, be linked to somebody you trust and that you have a good relationship with, take someone with you to the consultation, write down the questions I’m so sure you say this all the time, don’t you Nicole to the people that you talk to, but write down your questions, don’t be afraid to ask them again, there is no stupid question in this context, you will be given a 30-plus page booklet to read, and I lost count of the number of times, my patients go, yeah, I’ve got this or I trust you.

Actually, you know, you need to read it… We are experimenting on you, and you need to read that and understand. And you need to understand, what happens if I go on the control arm, will I be able to cross over? How many visits will I have, will, I have to pay for those visits, etcetera. It’s all really important, but ultimately the relationship with your healthcare provider is important and using an advocate (inaudible) is really important.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I agree, 100%. So important, these are things that I talk about all the time, so I really appreciate that you highlighted that, and just the importance of patients taking an active role in their medical care and also the trust that is required between the patient and their treating providers. So I really appreciate that. Do you have any examples, Dr. Harrison in your own practice of successes with MPN patients who have participated in clinical trials? 

Dr. Claire Harrison:

Oh yes, I think I started doing clinical trials, well golly a long time ago. I think my first clinical trial, we probably the records of written parchment to be honest, but we’ve still learned a lot from that, so that was an ET study. It was from that study we understood about the JAK2 mutation on and we understood how patients behave differently. I think probably the most gratifying thing for me was being involved in the JAK inhibitor studies in myelofibrosis and being involved in delivering Ruxolitinib and Jakafi to patients and seeing the benefits for those patients. 

Big things, you know, there are patients who are alive because they took part in that trial today, I think, but there are also patients for whom small things were also really important, so as a patient, that’s important to define what is the benefit you want to get. So one of my first patients, you haven’t been able to have a bath or a shower for years, because he had terrible what we call aquagenic pruritus itching induced by contact with water, we called him two days after he started Ruxolitinib and he was in tears, he could take… Or you can take it out.

These things are really important. Like myself, I can imagine not being able to dig it out, I would either be very tough for another patient, it was, Well, I looked really skinny because I’d lost loads of weight and I put weight on, and body image was really important as well, but then the small things like being able to be… participate more in family activities is really, really important too.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful, so what advice would you give for patients so that they can really take a proactive approach to their healthcare and feel more confident in talking about their concerns and communicating with their healthcare team, you’ve shared with us how important that is. Do you have maybe two or three specific tips or maybe questions that every MPN patient should ask their healthcare provider?

Dr. Claire Harrison:

I think the first thing to say is, in my personal view is you do not have to be under an MPN expert to get the best care. I know some people differ with regard to that, but these are chronic conditions, there are national and international guidelines, clinicians are connected. We all talk about patients over time, as we like to do that, we like to get the best for our patients, so a local center with a clinician who you trust, who you get on with… Where you can get there easily. You trust their team, you know their logistics work for you, maybe it’s a nurse who work who you get on with, well, who comes to the appointment with you, that is just as good as being under the best professor in the state, where you might not actually see them  when you turn up and go to the unit, so that’s really important, understanding your condition, and if you don’t understand being empowered to ask questions, and if you’re in a position where you can’t ask a question, something’s wrong. So don’t be afraid, take somebody with you, write it down. Sometimes it can be a mistake to do a troll on the internet, so I wouldn’t always encourage that because what’s on the internet is not always accurate, but go to a trusted website as the clinician… Where can I go to find out more information? Some patient advocacy groups run buddy systems that can also be very helpful and it can be very empowering to meet another patient with the same or similar condition, so I think those are all helpful tips from my perspective, also don’t expect to get all the answers all the time, it can be really tricky as a clinician, maybe you get a patient who comes with a big long list of questions, and say What is your top question that you really want answers to.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Those are awesome, awesome tips. I’m just gonna repeat a few of them, just to highlight, you mentioned prioritizing your concerns which is incredibly important, and acknowledging that the clinician doesn’t have unlimited time, and so really focusing on the things that concern you the most, you mentioned bringing a buddy to appointments, which is something I fully endorse, so that there’s someone else that’s taking notes or… It can be your eyes and ears during that appointment, things that you may have missed either because of anxiety or stress, and you mentioned writing things down, taking notes, even as the patient asking questions, which is so incredibly important, and really the way that I feel patients demonstrate their involvement in their disease and being an active member of the team, so I really, really appreciate those tips, Dr. Harrison, I think that you have given us so information, so much information about how to empower MPN patients and their families so that they can really get the best care at the outset. So it’s time to wrap things up, Dr. Harrison, I’d love to close with any closing thoughts that you have, any takeaway messages you’ve given us so many already, but if there’s anything else that you have not had the opportunity to share with the audience, I love for you to go ahead and do that now.

Specifically anything related to how they can advocate for themselves or any other important messages that you wanna leave the audience with.

Dr. Claire Harrison:

I think I would want the listeners to feel empowered and to feel very hopeful, this is the time where there’s a great change. We’ve been through a really difficult couple of years, but actually, we group together really well as a patient in a clinical community, and we’ve learned a lot, so trust your clinical team if you don’t trust them if there’s a problem. Move on. And don’t be afraid to do that, don’t be afraid to ask for another opinion, actually, we as clinicians like somebody else to give an opinion on our patients, that’s another thing we haven’t covered, and do connect with patient advocacy and keep up-to-date. Do you ask for a copy of your letter, don’t be afraid to ask for copies of your diagnostic information, you will properly outlive the relationship with your clinician. I will probably retire before my patients move on from my practice, so keep the information and understand it as much as you can.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful, thank you. So Dr. Harrison and you’ve just left us with a message of hope and a message of empowerment, and I think those two things are incredibly important, so I really appreciate you taking time with us today, and thank you so much for sharing your insights and your expertise. And I wanna thank you all for tuning in to this Patient Empowerment Network program. 

Five Tips to Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions

How can myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients become more active in their care? In the “How Should You Participate in MPN Care and Treatment Decisions?” program, expert Dr. Abdulraheem Yacoub of the University of Kansas Cancer Center shares five key tips MPN patients can take for a more active role for optimal health outcomes.

1. Become a Patient Self-Advocate

It’s vital to have the ability to advocate on your own behalf no matter your age at diagnosis. And some MPN patients will be diagnosed at a relatively young age and will have different MPN care providers over the course of their disease. These patients need to get accustomed with the idea of care approaches changing over time.

2. Get Involved and Build Your Village

Being involved in your well-being as a patient is of utmost importance, and thinking about your support network is recommended as one of your early steps as a patient. Think about who among your friends, family, co-workers, and spiritual community might be able to help support you – and ask your MPN care provider about support resources if you need some additional help.

3. Bring a Friend or Loved One to Appointments

It’s important to have someone else at your appointments with you to help understand the information you receive and to also take notes and to ask questions if it’s helpful for you. Having a second set of ears is especially important with your early visits about treatment options, and the use of telemedicine makes it easier for loved ones to help support your appointments.

4. Get a Second Opinion

Second opinions are no longer the taboo that they were once perceived as. Listen to medical facts given to you from your MPN specialist and from your primary treating physician. And if you want a second opinion from another MPN specialist, this practice is easier to carry out now through telemedicine.

5. Seek Out Credible Resources and Research News

Keep yourself informed about the latest MPN research and treatment news by visiting credible online resources. In addition to PEN, check The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and MPN Research Foundation. The annual meetings of expert conferences like the American Society of Hematology (ASH) and American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) bring research updates for MPN online resources to cover.

By taking a more active role in their care, MPN patients can help determine the best care and treatment plan for optimal health outcomes.

Five Ways the PEN Empowerment Lead Program Can Support Your Cancer Journey

Our Empowerment Lead program is here to support patients and families around important topics and to provide navigation for the path to empowerment. Our Empowerment Leads are highly passionate empowerment ambassadors volunteering from around the U.S., engaging with the PEN network of cancer patients and care partners, and serving as a direct channel of empowerment.  

1. Utilize the PEN Text-Line

By texting EMPOWER to +1-833-213-6657, you can meet someone with your same condition  and  receive personalized support from our Empowerment Leads. Whether you’re a cancer patient, or a  friend or loved one of a cancer patient, PEN’s Empowerment Leads will be here for you at every step of your journey.

2. Watch PEN Videos

Taking a proactive role in your well-being as a patient is of utmost importance for optimal health outcomes. And PEN videos are a trusted source when seeking out information from cancer experts, patients, care partners, and PEN Empowerment Leads. Whether you’re a newly diagnosed patient, care partner, long-time cancer patient, or other concerned patient advocate, PEN videos provide a valuable way to learn about cancer patient stories, testing information, questions to ask your cancer specialist, how to support and be supported as a care partner, ensuring that your patient voice is heard, and more.

3. Read PEN Blogs

Our PEN blogs are a rich source of support information on a wide range of topics for cancer patients and care partners. The blogs serve as another way to gain knowledge and advice for navigating and coping with your cancer journey. Some recent topics have included mental  health advice, financial support resources, nutrition and exercise tips, COVID-19 vaccine guidelines, patient stories, caregiver advice, genetic testing, and cancer news updates.

4. Download and Use Our Activity Guides

Initiated as a patient and care partner tool at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our PEN-Powered Activity Guides continue as a way to stay connected and to relieve stress during your cancer journey. Packed with information and support resources, the Activity Guides provide content including clinical trial information and experiences, patient stories and lessons learned, advice from care partners, healthy recipes, music playlists, coloring pages, and more. If you’re a busy cancer patient or care partner, the Activity Guides are easy to print to take with  you to read during travel and waiting room time for cancer care appointments.

5. Learn About Our PEN Empowerment Leads

If you don’t have time to watch a video or to read a blog right away, you can browse our list of PEN Empowerment Leads. You can easily see the community that each Empowerment Lead serves  and read a short bio about their experience as a cancer patient or care partner.

By taking advantage of our PEN Empowerment Lead resources, cancer patients and care partners can gain knowledge and confidence to navigate their own cancer journeys.

Equity Rx Crowdsourced Resource

Download Resource

PEN_Equity Rx Crowdsourced Resource

Download Resource

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

How Can Healthcare Systems Better Approach Whole Person Care?

How Can Healthcare Systems Better Approach Whole Person Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Healthcare systems can take steps toward better whole person care. Dr. Nicole Rochester and Aswita Tan-McGrory share solutions that can help overcome trauma and lack of trust to work toward healing.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

So we’ve talked about all the things that need to happen in an ideal world, but as you described earlier, the system in which healthcare is provided in our country is dysfunctional, it’s broken, and so as someone with your background, what are some of the solutions? What are some of the things that healthcare systems and organizations can do with all these limitations that we’ve all been talking about today?

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH:

This actually came from my colleague who’s a psychiatrist, and we did a webinar together, and she mentioned this, and I just really loved it as a solution which is talking as a pathway to healing, when we think about…a lot of what I heard today, the big thing is a lack of trust between a patient and a provider or a patient and a healthcare system, there was so much trauma in our communities that we don’t talk about, and so I would say that like…

One solution is, we as a system need to talk about these challenges more openly or more…I mean I have this sign behind me it says, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable to talk about racism.” But I think also within our own communities, we need to talk more about the challenges, the things that we just sort of tolerated that are not okay anymore, and getting mental health care, acknowledging that we are disproportionately attacked when we go out on the streets, all of those things, we need to more openly talk about, and that is a pathway to healing, which I think this country really could use. And so my solution is simple but difficult, but probably cheaper than any other solution that I would offer to fix the issues. I think we just need to start there, yes, we can do many things, but I think talking about this as a pathway to healing would go a long way.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow. Talking as a pathway to healing. That is powerful.

Advice From a Cancer Survivor for Better Whole Person Care

Advice from a Cancer Survivor for Better Whole Person Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 How can better whole person care be achieved by patients and healthcare providers? Dr. Nicole Rochester and Sasha Tanori discuss ways that care can be improved to work toward optimal patient care.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

How Can Cultural Competency Play a Role in Your Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

If you had some advice that you could give from a patient’s perspective, and maybe you’re talking to a policy maker or healthcare providers, but how can we do better in this area as it relates to whole person care, culturally competent care?

Sasha Tanori:

I would definitely say take your patients more seriously and not just like one-offs, okay, bye. A lot of the time, they just do a couple of tests and they’re like, “Oh well, we can’t find anything, so let’s just move along,” and there needs to be more conversation as well.

A lot of the doctors will come in and talk to you for like you said, 15 minutes, and then it’s like, “Okay, you know, well, we can’t find anything wrong, so just go.” And it’s like, “No, let me explain everything, let me explain how I’m mentally feeling, how I’m physically feeling, how stressed out feeling, how emotionally I’m feeling.” And there are just so many different layers to just one, if you come in and say, “Oh, well, my hip hurts.” Okay, but why I explain more to it, not just okay let’s do an x-ray and you leave. Like there needs to be a lot more conversation going on between the patient and the doctor, there needs to be a lot more understanding where it could also be stress as it relates to work, it could be stress related to family, to love the ones…to kids, to spouses, there are so many different things on top of that, that’s more than just, you know, “Hey, you know like, I just need a prescription,” and you can go. There’s so much more conversation needs to be have then I really wish that a lot more healthcare providers would have that conversation with them, I know they don’t always have the time, they’re busy, but at least a little bit more compassion, a little bit more understanding, going about when it comes to patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I appreciate that, and you’re right. The time is an issue. And I will tell you as a physician and as somebody who has tons of physician friends, it causes internal conflict within the doctors, because I don’t know any doctor that got into this for any reason, primarily, other than to help patients, and so to be placed in these situations where you know that you’re falling short of providing the care that your patients need is actually quite disturbing.

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression on physical health? Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Broderick Rodell discuss how personal experiences and environmental conditions can impact patient health and a prostate cancer study that examined prostate cancer cells in Black patients.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Advice From Cancer Survivor to Better Whole Person Care

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

We know that stress and anxiety and depression and all of those things impact your physical health, and as I said earlier, I think traditionally, there’s been this ridiculous disconnection between our minds and our bodies, and we know a lot more now, in fact, there’s a study, there are many studies, but there’s a study specifically looking at prostate cancer by Dr. Burnham, a researcher. And what they found in this study is that they looked at prostate cancer cells from African American patients and white patients, and when they treated these cells with stress hormones, they saw that the Black patient’s prostate cells would begin to up-regulate the genes and the proteins that are known to make that cancer more resistant to therapy. And so it starts to look at the role of stress and stress hormones, and we know that there’s increased stress among minority communities, among… sorry, urban communities, those who are otherwise disenfranchised, so from your perspective, can you just share a little bit about the connection between stress and physical illness and maybe how you approach that in the work that you do?

Dr. Broderick Rodell:

So, these various patterns we don’t operate, we have a framework that we all operate from, and it’s beneath the surface of our conscious awareness. And so our subconscious mind operating system is there, but that operating system comes from our conditioning, we’re conditioned by our families, by our local communities, our societies. And so, the various structures that are in place are facilitating our conditioning and from our conditioning we…that our conditioning creates our perspective, the framework that we operate from, that’s determine…that’s going to determine how we relate to our experiences. And how we relate to our experiences can be gracefully, or it can be stressfully, just to put it in those two different terms, and so that stress that is created based on how we’re relating to our experiences has a historical perspective, and so we have to address those issues. We can address our familial issues that has a historical relationship and say that maybe the relationship that my mother and father or grandparents had towards their own health is not necessarily to be the most optimal way to do that. And they may have had those ways of relating to their experience, based on their conditioning, based on the suffering that they’ve experienced, environmental conditions that were conducive for that mental framework that they’re operating from, and so we have to work towards transforming that, and again, the place where we have the most power in ourselves, “How can I change myself?”

I have to advocate for myself, and so how do we increase that by increasing our education and learning about ourselves and learning about our mental models that we’re using to relate to our experiences and transforming those mental models to reduce unnecessary stress and tension? Because when we’re under unnecessary stress, we have our epinephrine cortisol, these hormones that are increasing in our body, that’s going to suppress our immune system. It’s going to cause damage in our blood vessels, organs are not going to function optimally, and I think that we’re going to keep finding out more and more about this. I was interested, as you hear that about the prostate, prostate cells in African Americans, why would that be the case? You’ve got generations of hyper-vigilance for historical reasons, cultural reasons, or social reasons. Then, of course, that’s going to get passed on from generation to generation, a sense of hyper-vigilance, a sense excessive amount of stress hormones was floating around in the bloodstream, and it’s going to have a significant influence on how the body is capable of dealing with various illnesses – be it cancer, be it cardiovascular disease, or any other disease that’s associated with, or probably all disease that’s associated with stress these days.

In particular, with cancer it’s very interesting, that relationship and why are these cells dividing and rapidly producing in the way that they’re doing, and how is that related to stress? I don’t think it’s…no, simple relationship there. You can’t just say, “Stress causes cancer.” I’m not saying that at all. But there is a correlation, there is a relationship, and if the thing that we can tackle, we can’t change our genes, but what we can do is change our relationship to our experience. Transform that to reduce the amount of stress or suffering and maximize well-being, and that’s the kind of work that I try to focus my attention on and what comes out of that is, “Okay, I need to work on how I relate to my experience,’ but also “How do I create favorable conditions in my internal system, in my body through the food, in through the exercise that I do, through the literature and I expose myself to, etcetera?”

How Can Cultural Competency Play a Role in Your Care?

How Can Cultural Competency Play a Role in Your Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Cultural competency, also known as cultural humility, can help provide better care. Dr. Nicole Rochester and Sasha Tanori discuss barriers to diagnosis and Sasha’s experience as a Mexican American patient in the healthcare system.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Advice From Cancer Survivor to Better Whole Person Care

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Sasha, from your perspective, and you mentioned you’re a Mexican American, you mentioned that there were significant barriers for you in terms of getting a diagnosis, having to leave your community. So I love for you to share more about that, this idea of cultural humility, cultural sensitivity, and how that played out or maybe didn’t in your experiences with the healthcare system.

Sasha Tanori:

Yeah, I live in the lowest poverty line of California, so there’s not very much out there at all in my area. Just to get my diagnosis, like I said, I had to leave out of my community to go get the community…to go get the diagnosis. Sorry. And when I did that, it was…a lot of it had to also do with your…for me personally, it has to do with like generational. My father doesn’t believe in diagnosis, diagnoses, to him, it’s like every time I kept coming to him and complaining about this issue, he was just like, “Oh, you’re exaggerating.” Or it would be like the typical [passive], “You’ve got to go and put some Vicks on it, and you’re fine,” type of response, and I kept bugging him and bugging him, and he didn’t believe me, nobody believed me because it’s just such a…like I said, I live in a…what’s the word I’m thinking of, I’m sorry. I live in a community that they don’t take things like this seriously from Mexicans. If a white girl was to go to the hospital and say, “Hey, I’ve got bruises.” It’s like, “Okay, let’s do testing right away.” But I kept…and it is a lot of my generational, I think, trauma from my parents or from my dad mostly, that I didn’t even believe myself, it’s just like…

I kept putting it on the back burner. I kept thinking, “No, there’s nothing wrong. No, there’s nothing wrong. No, there’s nothing wrong.” And I wish that I would have advocated for myself a lot sooner. I wish that I would have taken my own problems more seriously because I didn’t…I didn’t think anything was wrong either. I just kept ignoring it, because that’s just how my mind was trained from my community, from my parents or my dad mostly, and finally, once I was able to… Once I started getting really, really serious, I still didn’t get the help, I needed it right away, it was now kept pushing it back on, “You need to lose weight,” or “You’re anemic,” or “You have this blood disorder, so take this medicine.’ Like nobody really took anything I was saying serious, because I also didn’t take it serious, my community doesn’t take it serious, my dad doesn’t take it serious, and that all just comes back to being Mexican. That’s just how it is when you’re Mexican, you don’t really take any of the serious issues serious, you go to work, and you take care of your family. And you put yourself on the back burner.

You put yourself last. And it was really hard. Yeah, but now that I’ve been through everything I’ve been through, I’m seriously, so passionate about making sure that people, especially Mexicans realize, “Hey, whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re going through, whether it’s physical, emotional, mentally, it needs to come first, no matter what.”

What Is the Importance of Culturally Competent Care?

What Is the Importance of Culturally Competent Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Culturally competent care is another way to work toward health equity. Dr. Nicole Rochester and Aswita Tan-McGrory discuss barriers to providing culturally competent care and ways to address the issues.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Advice From Cancer Survivor to Better Whole Person Care

How Can Cultural Competency Play a Role in Your Care?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

We know that due to structural racism, due to inequities, not everybody has access to fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy foods, not everyone has access to green spaces, nice parks where they can go outside and have safety and exercise, and that’s something that we’re being made increasingly aware of is how these social determinants of health impact healthcare. So I want to move and start to talk about the importance of culturally competent care, or I like to call it cultural humility, I don’t know that we can really ever be competent in someone else’s culture. But I want to talk about how those come together, this idea of being respectful and sensitive and aware of an individual’s culture and how that connects to some of the health inequities that we experience. So, Aswita, I know this is an area of expertise for you, so I’d love for you to chime in.

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH:

Yeah, I mean, I would love it if every physician or nurse or PA started the conversation, what has been the biggest challenge for you in the last six months? If you ask that question, I mean, well the patient will be like, “Oh my God.” And not around just medical issues, they all align, right? If you don’t have housing, you’re going to have medical stress, like Broderick said. I’m just calm listening to you, so I’m going to guess that you have is really positive vibe that’s probably missing for many of us because we aren’t practicing the things that you encourage. And so I would just say that it’s really difficult in the system like I said, we set up, and we mentioned 15 minutes, doctors don’t feel like they have time to ask that question, but you’re doing it in other ways, we implement social determinants of health screening. Well, that’s really that question, right? But you formalize it because it’s not happening, so now it becomes like a screening question. And I will just say that we’re very narrow-minded in our view. I think I have seen a change in the very beginning when we started the work in our center in 2006, a lot of pushback was around thinking about what happens in the patient outside of our walls. It said,  “Well, I didn’t go to medical school to solve the problem of housing, I didn’t go to medical school to figure out how to get somebody on benefits.” And I think the healthcare system realized it doesn’t matter what you do in the hospital, it will be undone when they get home to a situation where they can’t maintain it, they can’t provide that support, they don’t…

They’re stressed out, they have mental health issues, so I think they’re finally getting there. But I think just acknowledging that the person in front of you has different experiences based on language, education, gender, ability, sexual orientation…I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think you just need to own it, we’re working on it. So I do it better than others, but I don’t know any healthcare system, honestly, that’s nailed this to the way that we probably should, so…I’m with you, Broderick. We don’t do this very well, and most of my job includes dismantling these systems that we built to benefit the people in power and leave everybody else behind, and so that’s been really the focus in our work.

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is whole person care, and why is it important to address? Dr. Nicole Rochester, Dr. Broderick Rodell, Aswita Tan-McGrory, and Sasha Tanori discuss the factors that whole person care examines, obstacles of healthcare systems, and how to advocate for optimal care.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

How Can Cultural Competency Play a Role in Your Care?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

So let’s start with a definition of whole person care. Whole person care is defined as the patient center, optimal use of diverse healthcare resources to deliver the physical, behavioral, emotional, and social services required to improve the coordination of care for patients, their well-being, and their health outcomes. So I’d like to start with you, Aswita, and I’d like to know your thoughts on whole person care, and why do you think that this has been such a taboo subject for so long, and also why is it important for us to address whole person care?

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH:

I think that part of the problem is that our healthcare system is very, very fragmented, so if we think about…we have primary care, then we have specialty care, then we have care in the hospital, and oftentimes there’s no communication, or communication is sort of inconsistent between those pieces. And so we as a healthcare system don’t promote this idea of whole person care, where you would really look at a patient, see them, see them in their environment, oftentimes, we’re seeing patients in our own institutions and we really don’t know anything about what we’re sending them home to, right? Unless we ask or we screen.

So I actually think it starts with how we build our systems in many ways, as a very sort of system that doesn’t really work to encourage thinking about the patient in the whole way, and that means the primary care physician being part of the care team with specialty care, getting that conversation just from an implementation perspective, I think this is a real challenge in our system, there’s other things as well, but I think that’s a big piece towards how do we ensure that for the patient…and I’m sure all of us have had our own experiences in healthcare where we are like, “They’re not talking to each other. Well, why does this doctor not talk to my primary care doctor? Aren’t they like logging into the same system?” And then if you go outside of your system, it’s even more challenging, so.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, and I can relate to every single thing you said as both a physician and as a former caregiver, I will say as a pediatrician, I felt that this idea of whole person care, even before it was really a thing that’s kind of incorporated in our practice out of necessity, and we know that it’s important for the health of children to be involved in what happens to them at school and what happens to them in their child care setting, what’s happening in their homes.

And so that was kind of my reference point, but when I became a caregiver for my dad and kind of stepped into the world of adult medicine, I experienced exactly what you describe, Aswita. Just this fragmentation providers not talking to one another, and just a lack of appreciation for the importance of our environment and the things that we’re exposed to in our homes than in our communities, and how that is so intricately connected to our health. So I really appreciate that.

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH:

Yeah, I want to just tag on something you just said is, I work with a lot of pediatricians and pediatric hospitals, and they are the angels in our system, if I can say so, you…and they definitely have cornered that market of really thinking of social determinants of health or the whole system for their pediatric patients in a way that I think adult medicine is just catching up on. So I’m totally in agreement, like what you said, and I think it’s because you’re working with kids, you can’t not talk to the parents, not think about what is the school like you know so you’re forced to because of that environment, but that’s really a model that we should be using for all of our patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, completely agree. Sasha, what are your thoughts about whole person care and where are your providers gotten it, right, maybe where have they gotten it wrong?

Sasha Tanori:

For me personally, I can’t speak on every Mexican American, but at least for me personally, it’s definitely been a struggle because where I come from, it’s a very like low demographic, we don’t have a whole lot of resources and stuff like that. So getting care is…it’s not the easiest. I’ve had to go to several doctors before I even got diagnosed, and I didn’t even get diagnosed in my hometown, I had to be sent to San Diego because they had no idea what was going on. They were like, “We don’t know what’s wrong with you. Go home.” They kept giving me misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, and especially with being a plus-sized Mexican American, they were just like, “Oh, if you lose a couple of pounds, you’ll be fine.” And I show up at the hospital with bruises on my body and they’re like, “It’s because you’re overweight.” And I’m like, “That doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense.” So yeah, it was definitely difficult trying to find a good healthcare professional who would listen to me, and I had to leave out of my Imperial Valley, out of my demographic to go find the help because…

And even then, they were kind of like, “Well, it could be this blood disease, it could be this, it could be that.”  And they were like, “Oh well, is anyone in your family…you’re Mexican, is there anyone in your family who has this type of illness, do they have diabetes, or this or that?” And I was like, “No, just help me. Don’t worry about them. Don’t worry about my family. Don’t worry about them. Worry about me.” And finally, I think after two months or something of just going to doctors’ appointments, after doctors’ appointments, they finally were able to give me proper diagnosis. But it shouldn’t have to take that many trips to the hospital and seeing this many doctors for them to figure out what was wrong. And a lot of it is because of, like you said, it’s because of the whole inequity of being a person of color, and I’m only half-Mexican. But a lot of people see that part of me first, and I think they automatically start being prejudiced, or they start judging you based on the way you look, the way you talk and stuff like that, so that way. It’s definitely been a struggle, especially being here in the Imperial Valley, we’re so close to the Mexican border. So they just automatically…they’re like, “No,” it’s just straight up, “No.”

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow, I’m really sorry about that, and I appreciate you sharing your story. What about you, Broderick? And you’re a naturopathic physician, you’re a wellness expert, so you probably fully…not probably you fully understand the importance of whole person care. I feel like that’s at the root of your specialty, so maybe you can give us some ideas about how you approach this and why whole person care is so important.

Broderick Rodell:

Yes, thank you. And I do fully understand the various issues and concerns that can arise when you go to a medical doctor and the specialist and not talking to your primary care physician. And so I focus a lot of my attention on the individual and what you can do as an individual to care for yourself, to educate yourself about well-being and help. It doesn’t deny the various social conditions or structural issues there. It’s just that I feel like we have our greatest amount of power, a great capacity to act and taking as much responsibility as we possibly can in our own care through educating ourselves about how our bodies work, how our mind works, how disease manifestation arises, taking advantage of the tools that we have available to us via the Internet and educating ourselves so that we can be advocates for ourselves when we have a conversation with the various medical practitioners. But I’ve also really emphasized what can I do to maximize my health, my well-being, what choices can I make in my life to make my life into a life with maximum wellness and well-being and minimal suffering? And I do spend a large amount of time focusing on training the mind, reducing stress, educating yourself around, what can I do to eat well, nutrition, what can I do to exercise? To get my body moving, what are the various things that I can do to care for myself to the best of my abilities and not give too much power over to medical doctors on a medical system that not always…

Now, I want to say, I’m going to be careful, I say this can be quite incompetent and that incompetence is associated with, I think what was mentioned earlier, a lack of communication. A lack of communication, the way the system is set up, it’s kind of dysfunctional and the various incentives and not enough time spent with patients. And if you’re not spending enough time with patients and you’re not communicating with other practitioners that are working with these patients, then you’re not going to have a very good idea of what’s going on in this patient’s life and what could be contributing to their illness. So, therefore, it’s incumbent upon the patient, we as individuals, to try to learn as much as we can and try to get our communities involved to help create educational programs to facilitate that education and that awareness.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, Broderick, the ideas that you mentioned in terms of we as patients and family members and communities educating ourselves about our own health and advocating for ourselves as someone who left medicine to become a professional health advocate, I’m all about advocating for yourself, speaking up, understanding what’s going on with your body. And I know that that can be challenging. And some people feel like, “It’s unfair, if I’m sick, the last thing I should have to worry about is fiercely advocating for myself in a medical setting.” And it is unfair to some degree, but as you stated in this system and the system that we’re currently operating in it is absolutely necessary, and I love that you mentioned mind, body spirit. And as a traditionally trained physician, I will admit that we don’t get that connection, that’s not something that is part of our traditional training. And it’s unfortunate that we kind of just see the body over here, and then the mind over here. And we know that we are all…this is all part of who we are, and that if your environment is not optimal, if your mental health is not optimal, if your spiritual health is not optimal, then that’s going to manifest itself in your physical health.

Equity Rx, Cancer Care for the Whole Patient

Equity Rx, Cancer Care for the Whole Patient from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is culturally competent whole-person cancer care, and why is it important? How can patients maximize their well-being for the best possible cancer treatment outcome? A cancer survivor, a naturopathic doctor, and a public health scientist share solutions on how the whole patient should be considered in cancer care.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Hello and welcome to Equity Rx, Cancer Care for the Whole Patient. I’m your host, Dr. Nicole Rochester. I’m a pediatrician and the CEO of Your GPS Doc. This is a Patient Empowerment Network program, and I’d like to start by thanking our incredible partners, Triage Cancer, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and CancerGRACE for their support. Today, we’re covering a very important topic, the significance of treating the whole patient while providing medical care, particularly for underserved communities. For me, when we think about self-care in the context of whole person care, it’s often considered to be a luxury, particularly in BIPOC communities, mental health and self-care are not always prioritized, and we know that this is… And we know that this is important as well for those with the cancer diagnosis, so how do we change that? We’re going to be talking about how to remove this taboo and how to encourage meaningful mind-body connections, we’re gonna talk about what has worked and what hasn’t worked, and most importantly, how do we ensure that Equity, Rx in cancer care occurs on an everyday basis.

How do we make sure that the entire patient, the whole patient is considered. I’m excited to introduce our panel to you today, we have Aswita Tan-McGory. She is the director of Equity and care implementation at Massachusetts General Hospital. She’s also the Director for the disparity solution center. We have Sasha Tanori. Sasha is a Patient Empowerment Network, AML Empowerment Lead and a cancer survivor. And we have Dr. Broderick Rodell He is an educator, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, and a wellness expert. Following this program, you will receive a survey and we’d be delighted to get your feedback, this helps inform future programs that we produce. Please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical care, so if you have any questions following this program, please be sure to connect with your healthcare team on what options are best for you.

So, let’s start with a definition of whole-person care. Whole-person care is defined as the patient center, optimal use of diverse health care resources to deliver the physical, behavioral, emotional and social services required to improve the coordination of care for patients, their well-being and their health outcomes. So, I’d like to start with you, Aswita and I’d like to know your thoughts on Whole Person Care, and why do you think that this has been such a taboo subject for so long, and also why is it important for us to address whole person care?

Aswita Tan-McGory, MBA, MSPH:

I think that part of the problem is that our healthcare system is very, very fragmented, so if we think about… We have primary care, then we have specialty care, then we have care in the hospital, and oftentimes there’s no communication or communication is sort of inconsistent between those pieces, and so we as a healthcare system don’t promote this idea of whole person care, where you would really look at a patient, see them, see them in their environment, oftentimes, we’re seeing patients in our own institutions and we really don’t know anything about what we’re sending them home to, right? Unless we ask or we screen.

So I actually think it starts with how we build our systems in many ways, as a very sort of system that doesn’t really work to encourage thinking about the patient in the whole way, and that means the primary care physician being part of the care team with specialty care, getting that conversation just from an implementation perspective, I think this is a real challenge in our system, there’s other things as well, but I think that’s a big piece towards how do we ensure that for the patient… And I’m sure all of us have had our own experiences in healthcare where we are like, they’re not talking to each other. Well, why does this this doctor not talking to my primary care doctor aren’t they like logging into the same system? And then if you go outside of your system it’s even more challenging, so.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, and I can relate to every single thing you said as both a position and as a former caregiver, I will say as a pediatrician, I felt that this idea of whole person care, even before it was really a thing that’s kind of incorporated in our practice out of necessity, and we know that it’s important for the health of children to be involved in what happens to them at school and what happens to them in their child care setting, what’s happening in their homes.

And so that was kind of my reference point, but when I became a caregiver for my dad and kind of stepped into the world of adult medicine, I experienced exactly what you describe, Aswita. Just this fragmentation providers not talking to one another, and just a lack of appreciation for the importance of our environment and the things that we’re exposed to in our homes than in our communities, and how that is so intricately connected to our health. So I really appreciate that.

Aswita Tan-McGory, MBA, MSPH:

Yeah, I want to just tag on something you just said is, I work with a lot of pediatricians and pediatric hospitals, and they are the angels in our system, if I can say so, you… And they definitely have cornered that market of really thinking of social determinants of health or the whole system for their pediatric patients in a way that I think adult medicine is just catching up on, so I totally agreement, like what you said, and I think it’s because you’re working with kids, you can’t not talk to the parents, not think about what is the school like you know so your forced to because of that environment, but that’s really a model that we should be using for all of our patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, completely agree. Sasha, what are your thoughts about whole-person care and where are your providers gotten it, right, maybe where have they gotten it wrong?

Sasha Tanori:

For me personally, I can’t speak on every Mexican-American, but at least for me personally, it’s definitely been a struggle because where I come from, it’s a very like low demographic, we don’t have a whole lot of resources and stuff like that, so getting care is… It’s not the easiest. I’ve had to go to several doctors before I even got diagnosed, and I didn’t even get diagnosed in my hometown, I had to be sent to San Diego because they had no idea what was going on. They were like, We don’t know what’s wrong with you. Go home, they kept giving me misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, and especially with being a plus-sized Mexican-American, they were just like, Oh, if you lose a couple of pounds, you’ll be fine, and I show up at the hospital with bruises on my body and they’re like it’s because you’re overweight, and I’m like, That doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. So yeah, it was definitely difficult trying to find a good health care professional who would listen to me, and I had to leave out of my Imperial Valley, out of my demographic to go find the help because…

And even then, they were kind of like, Well, it could be this blood disease, it could be this, it could be that, and they were like, Oh well, is anyone in your family… You’re Mexican, is anyone in your family have this type of illness, do they have diabetes, or this or that. And I was like, No, just help me. Don’t worry about them. Don’t worry about my family. Don’t worry about them. Worry about me. And finally, I think after two months or something of just going to doctor’s appointments, after doctor’s appointments, they finally were able to give me proper diagnosis, but it shouldn’t have to take that many trips to the hospital and seeing this many doctors for them to figure out what was wrong. And a lot of it is because of, like you said, it’s because of the whole inequity of being a person of color, and I’m only half Mexican, but a lot of people see that part of me first, and they think they automatically start being prejudiced or they start judging you based on the way you look, the way you talk and stuff like that, so that way… It’s definitely been a struggle, especially being here in the Imperial Valley, we’re so close to the Mexican border, so they just automatically…They’re like, No, it’s just straight up, no.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow, I’m really sorry about that, and I appreciate you sharing your story and you’re bringing up some things that we’re definitely going to get further into as we start to talk about bias and culturally competent care. What about you Broderick? And You’re a naturopathic physician, you’re a wellness expert, so you probably fully… Not probably you fully understand the importance of whole-person care, I feel like that’s at the root of your specialty, so maybe you can give us some ideas about how you approach this and why whole person care is so important.

Broderick Rodell:

Yes, thank you. And I do fully understand the various issues and concerns that can arise when you go to a medical doctor and the specialist and not talking to your primary care physician, and so I focus a lot of my attention on the individual and what you can do as an individual to care for yourself, to educate yourself about well-being and help, it doesn’t deny the various social conditions or structural issues there, it’s just that I feel like we have our greatest amount of power, a great capacity to act and taking as much responsibility as we possibly can in our own care through educating ourselves about how our bodies work, how our mind works, how disease manifestation arises, taking advantage of the tools that we have available to us via the internet and educating ourselves so that we can be advocates for ourselves when we have a conversation with the various medical practitioners, but I’ve also really emphasize what can I do to maximize my health, my well-being, what choices can I make in my life to make my life to no life with maximum wellness and well-being and minimal suffering. And I do spend a large amount of time focusing on training the mind, reducing stress, educating yourself around, what can I do to eat well, nutrition, what can I do to exercise? To get my body moving, what are the various things that I can do to care for myself to the best of my abilities and not give too much power over to medical doctors on a medical system that not always…

Now, I wanna say, I’m gonna be careful, I say this can be quite incompetent and that incompetence is associated with, I think what was mentioned earlier, a lack of communication. A lack of communication, the way the system is set up, it’s kind of dysfunctional and the various incentives and not enough time spent with patients, and if you’re not spending enough time with patients and you’re not communicating with other practitioners that are working with these patients, then you’re not gonna have a very good idea of what’s going on in this patient’s life and what could be contributing to their illness. So, therefore, it’s incumbent upon the patient, we as individuals, to try to learn as much as we can and try to get our communities involved to help create educational programs to facilitate that education and that awareness.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, Broderick the ideas that you mentioned in terms of we as patients and family members and communities educating ourselves about our own health and advocating for ourselves as someone who left medicine to become a professional health advocate, I’m all about advocating for yourself, speaking up, understanding what’s going on with your body? And I know that that can be challenging. And some people feel like it’s unfair, if I’m sick, the last thing I should have to worry about is fiercely advocating for myself in a medical setting, and it is unfair to some degree, but as you stated in this system and the system that we’re currently operating in it is absolutely necessary, and I love that you mentioned mind, body spirit, and as a traditionally trained physician, I will admit that we don’t get that connection, that’s not something that is part of our traditional training, and it’s unfortunate that we kind of just see the body over here, and then the mind over here, and we know that we are all… This is all part of who we are, and that if your environment is not optimal, if your mental health is not optimal, if your spiritual health is not optimal, then that’s going to manifest itself in your physical health.

I wanna start talking about health inequities, and I wanna piggy-back off of something you just said, Broderick, because you talked about kind of eating well and exercising, and sometimes those things, those behaviors are kind of weaponized against patients, particularly if they are in environments where that doesn’t just come easy. So we know that due to structural racism, due to inequities, not everybody has access to fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy foods, not everyone has access to green spaces, nice parks where they can go outside and safety and exercise, and that’s something that we’re being made increasingly aware of is how these social determinants of health impact healthcare. So I wanna move and start to talk about the importance of culturally competent care, or I like to call it cultural humility, I don’t know that we can really ever be competent in someone else’s culture, but I wanna talk about how those come together, this idea of being respectful and sensitive and aware of individuals culture and how that connects to some of the health inequities that we experience, so Aswita, I know this is an area of expertise for you, so I’d love for you to chime in.

Aswita Tan-McGory, MBA, MSPH:

Yeah, I mean, I would love it if every physician or nurse or PA started the conversation, what has been the biggest challenge for you in the last six months? If you ask that question, I mean, well the patient will be like, Oh my God. And not around just medical issues, they all align right? If you don’t have housing, you’re gonna have medical stress, like Broderick said. I’m just calm listening to you, so I’m gonna guess that you have is really positive vibe that’s probably missing for many of us because we aren’t practicing the things that you encourage, and so I would just say that it’s really difficult in the system like I said, we set up, and we mentioned 15 minutes, doctors don’t feel like they have time to ask that question, but you’re doing it in other ways, we implement social determinants of health screening. Well, that’s really that question, right. But you formalize it because it’s not happening, so now it becomes like a screening question, and I will just say that we’re very narrow-minded in our view, I think I have seen a change in the very beginning when we started the work in our center in 2006, a lot of pushback was around thinking about what happens in the patient outside of our walls, it said, Well, I didn’t go to medical school to solve the problem of housing, I didn’t go to medical school to figure out how to get somebody on benefits, and I think health care system realized it doesn’t matter what you do in the hospital, it will be undone when they get home to a situation where they can’t maintain it, they can’t provide that support, they don’t…

They’re stressed out, they have mental health issues, so I think they’re finally getting there, but I think just acknowledging that the person in front of you has different experiences based on, language, education, gender, ability, sexual orientation… I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think you just need to own it, we’re working on it, so I do it better than others, but I don’t know any healthcare system, honestly, that’s nailed this to the way that we probably should, so… I’m with you Broderick, we don’t do this very well, and most of my job includes dismantling these systems that we built to benefit the people in power and leave everybody else behind, and so that’s been really the focus in our work.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful, thank you so much for sharing that. And for all the work that you’re doing in this area. Sasha, from your perspective, and you mentioned you’re a Mexican-American, you mentioned that there were significant barriers for you in terms of getting a diagnosis, having to leave your community. So, I love for you to share more about that, this idea of cultural humility, cultural sensitivity, and how that played out or maybe didn’t in your experiences with the healthcare system.

Sasha Tanori:

Yeah, I live in the lowest poverty line of California, so there’s not very much out there at all in my area, just to get my diagnosis, like I said, I had to leave out of my community to go get the community… To go get the diagnosis. Sorry. And when I did that, it was… A lot of it had to also do with your… For me personally, it has to do with like generational. My father doesn’t believe in diagnosis, diagnoses, to him, it’s like every time I kept coming to him and complaining about this issue, he was just like, Oh, you’re exaggerating, or it would be like the typical inaudible],  and put some Vix on it and you’re fine type of response, and I kept bugging him and bugging him, and he didn’t believe me, nobody believed me because it’s just such a… Like I said, I live in a… What’s the word I’m thinking of, I’m sorry. I live in a community that they don’t take things like this seriously from Mexicans, if a white girl was to go to the hospital and say, Hey, I’ve got bruises, it’s like, Okay, let’s do testing right away, but I kept… And it is a lot of my generational, I think, trauma from my parents or from my dad mostly, that I didn’t even believe myself, it’s just like…

I kept putting it on the back burner. I kept thinking, No, there’s nothing wrong. No, there’s nothing wrong. No, there’s nothing wrong. And I wish that I would have advocated for myself a lot sooner, I wish that I would have taken my own problems more serious because I didn’t… I didn’t think anything was on either, I just kept ignoring it because that’s just how my mind was trained from my community, from my parents or my dad mostly, and finally, once I was able to… Once I started getting really, really serious, I still didn’t get the help, I need it right away, it was now kept pushing it back on, you need to lose weight, or you’re anemic, or you have this blood disorder, so take this medicine, like nobody really took anything… I was saying serious because I also didn’t take it serious, my community doesn’t take it serious, my dad doesn’t take it serious, and that all just comes back to being Mexican, that’s just how it is when you’re Mexican, you don’t really take any of the serious issues serious, you go to work and you take care of your family. And you put yourself on the back burner.

You put yourself last. And it was really hard. Yeah, but now that I been through everything I’ve been through, I’m seriously, so passionate about making sure that people, especially Mexicans realize, Hey, whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re going through, whether it’s physical, emotional, mentally, it needs to come first, no matter what.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you, Sasha. That is so incredibly important, and even the way you’re sharing what you said towards the end about, You go to work, you take care of your family, this all goes back to cultural competence, all goes back to social determinants of health. It explains why often, racial and ethnic minority groups, those in lower income brackets have poor health, it’s not biology, but when you are needing out of necessity to focus on your next meal, then you’re going to push off going to the doctor, you’re going to neglect your mental health, which brings me back to you, Broderick, because we know that stress and anxiety and depression and all of those things impact your physical health, and as I said earlier, I think traditionally, there’s been this ridiculous disconnection between our minds and our bodies, and we know a lot more now, in fact, there’s a study, there are many studies, but there’s a study specifically looking at Prostate Cancer by Dr. Burnham, a researcher, and what they found in this study is that they looked at prostate cancer cells from African-American patients and white patients, and when they treated these cells with stress hormones, they saw that the black patient’s prostate cells would begin to up-regulate the genes and the proteins that are known to make that cancer more resistant to therapy, and so it starts to look at the role of stress and stress hormones, and we know that there’s increased stress among minority communities, among… Sorry, urban communities, those who are otherwise disenfranchised, so from your perspective, can you just share a little bit about the connection between stress and physical illness and maybe how you approach that in the work that you do?

Broderick Rodell:

Yeah, so I’m just reflecting on what Sasha was saying and how the depth of what you’re saying and how this relates to stress. So these various patterns we don’t operate, we have a framework that we all operate from, and it’s beneath the surface of our conscious awareness and so our subconscious mind operating system is there, but that operating system comes from our conditioning, we’re conditioned by our families, by our local communities, our societies, and so the various structures that are in place are facilitating our conditioning and from our conditioning we… That our conditioning creates our perspective, the framework that we operate from, that’s determine… That’s gonna determine how we relate to our experiences, and how we relate to our experiences can be gracefully or it can be stressfully, just to put it in those two different terms, and so that stress, that is created based on how we’re relating to our experiences has a historical perspective, and so we have to address those issues. We can address on familial issues that has a historical relationship and say that maybe the relationship that my mother and father or grandparents had towards their own health is not necessarily to be the most optimal way to do that, and they may have had those ways of relating to their experience, based on their conditioning, based on the suffering that they’ve been experienced, environmental conditions that were conducive for that mental framework that they’re operating from, and so we have to work towards transforming that, and again, the place where we have the most power in ourselves, How can I change myself? When I listen to Sasha story, Sasha says, I have to change, I have to go somewhere else.

I can’t depend on my father to do it ’cause he’s gonna tell me to put Vix on, but that’s not gonna work for me. I have to advocate for myself, and so how do we increase that by increasing our education and learning about ourselves and learning about our mental models that we’re using to relate to our experiences and transforming those mental models to reduce unnecessary stress and tension, because when we’re under unnecessary stress, we have our epinephrine cortisol, these hormones that are increasing in our body, that’s gonna suppress our immune system. It’s gonna cause damage in our blood vessels, organs are not gonna function optimally, and I think that we’re gonna keep finding out more and more about this. I was interested, as you hear that about the prostate, prostate cells in African-Americans, why would that be the case? You’ve got generations of hyper-vigilance for historical reasons, cultural reasons or social reasons, then of course, that’s gonna get passed on from generation to generation, a sense of hyper-vigilance a sense excessive amount of stress hormones was floating around in the bloodstream, and it’s gonna have a significant influence on how the body is capable of dealing with various illnesses be it cancer, be it cardiovascular disease or any other disease that’s associated with, or ____ disease that’s associated with stress these days.

In particular, with cancer it’s very interesting, that relationship and why are these cells dividing and rapidly producing in the way that they’re doing, and how is that related to stress? I don’t think it’s… No, simple relationship there. You can’t just say, Stress causes cancer, I’m not saying that at all. But there is a correlation, there is a relationship, and if the thing that we can tackle, we can’t change our genes, but what we can do is change our relationship to our experience. Transform that to reduce the amount of stress or suffering and maximize well-being, and that’s the kind of work that I try to focus my attention on and what comes out of that is, Okay, I need to work on how I relate to my experience, but also How do I create favorable conditions in my internal system, in my body through the food, it through the exercise that I do it, through the literature and I expose myself to etcetera.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

No, that was perfect, Broderick. That was perfect. I appreciate that because as we wrap up, we want to start to share solutions, how do we begin to change the conversation among healthcare providers, among community-based organizations, policymakers, those that influence the health of individuals and communities, and what you’ve described is what we can do. The power that we have within ourselves to reframe how we look at our circumstances, to reframe how we relate to our experiences to begin to minimize the stress to the degree that we can individually and how all of that really impacts health. I really, really appreciate those comments. Sasha, I’m going to go to you next and then I’m going to finish up with Aswita. If you had some advice that you could give from a patient’s perspective, and maybe you’re talking to a policy maker or healthcare providers, but how can we do better in this area as it relates to Whole Person Care, culturally competent care?

Sasha Tanori:

I would definitely say take your patients more seriously and not just like one-offs, okay, bye. A lot of the times they just do a couple of tests and they’re like, Oh well, we can’t find anything, so let’s just move along and there needs to be more conversation as well.

A lot of the doctors will come in and talk to you for like you said, 15 minutes, and then it’s like, Okay, you know, well, we can’t find anything wrong, so just go… And it’s like, No, let me explain everything, let me explain how I’m mentally feeling, how I’m physically feeling, how stressed out feeling, how emotionally I’m feeling, and there’s just so many different layers to just one, if you come in and say, Oh, well, my hip hurts. Okay, but why I explain more to it, not just okay let’s do an x-ray and you leave. Like there needs to be a lot more conversation going on between the patient and the doctor, there needs to be a lot more understanding where it could also be stress as it relates to work, it could be stress related to family, to love the ones… To kids, to spouses, there’s so many different things on top of that, that’s more than just, you know, Hey, you know like, I just need a prescription and you can go… There’s so much more conversation needs to be have then I really wish that a lot more health care providers would have that conversation with them, I know they don’t always have the time, they’re busy, but at least a little bit more compassion, a little bit more understanding, going about when it comes to patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I appreciate that, and you’re right. The time is an issue. And I will tell you as a physician and as somebody who has tons of physician friends, it causes internal conflict within the doctors, because I don’t know any doctor that got into this for any reason, primarily, other than to help patients, and so to be placed in these situations where you know that you’re falling short of providing the care that your patients need is actually quite disturbing. So that leads me to you, Aswita. So we’ve talked about all the things that need to happen in an ideal world, but as you described earlier, the system in which health care is provided in our country is dysfunctional, it’s broken, and so as someone with your background, what are some of the solutions? What are some of the things that healthcare systems and organizations can do with all these limitations that we’ve all been talking about today?

Aswita Tan-McGory, MBA, MSPH:

This actually came from my colleague who’s a psychiatrist, and we did a webinar together, and she mentioned this, and I just really loved it as a solution which is talking as a pathway to healing, when we think about… A lot of what I heard today, the big thing is a lack of trust between a patient and a provider or a patient and a health care system, there was so much trauma in our communities that we don’t talk about, and so I would say that like…

One solution is, we as a system need to talk about these challenges more openly or more… I mean I have this sign behind me it says get comfortable being uncomfortable to talk about racism, but I think also within our own communities, we need to talk more about the challenges, the things that we just sort of tolerated that are not okay anymore, and getting mental health care, acknowledging that we are disproportionately attacked when we go out on the streets, all of those things, we need to more openly talk and that is a pathway to healing, which I think this country really could use, and so my solution is simple but difficult, but probably cheaper than any other solution that I would offer to fix the issues. I think we just need to start there, yes, we can do many things, but I think talking about this as a pathway to healing would go a long way.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow. Talking as a pathway to healing. That is powerful. Well, I want to thank all of you for spending some time with me today, this has been a phenomenal conversation, one that I’m sure we could all continue for hours and hours and hours. But unfortunately, we do have to go.

I want to thank all of you for taking time to be part of this Patient Empowerment Network, Equity Rx webinar. Just to give a recap, we’ve learned about the importance of culturally sensitive Whole Person Care, how culturally competent or culturally sensitive whole person and care is important in reducing health inequities, we talked about how stress impacts lifestyle and cancer and all other chronic diseases, and we’ve also tried to provide you with some actionable pathways and potential solutions to this problem, it is truly these actions that are the key to staying on your Path to Empowerment. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, thank you for joining this Patient Empowerment Network program.

MPN Patient Profile: Robyn Rourick Part 2

Read the first part of Robyn’s MPN journey here…

Picking up after 26 years of watchful monitoring of her myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN), scientist Robyn Rourick was then referred for an allogeneic stem cell transplant by her MPN specialist, Dr. Gotlib. The transplant team started working through the matching process for a bone marrow transplant donor, which often begins with close biological relatives. Although Robyn’s only sibling wasn’t a transplant match, a person considered a near perfect transplant match for Robyn was found.

At that point in her journey, the possibility of entering a Phase II clinical trial called ORCA-1 was presented by Robyn’s transplant doctor. She discovered that the ORCA-1 treatment had the potential to completely eliminate graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). The clinical trial made sense to her. In Robyn’s trained scientific mind, she agreed that the trial was founded on sound scientific rationale with the potential for clear benefit and signed up for it. She researched other things like whether the transplant team could look at biomarkers to guard against graft-versus-host disease, but she decided to take the clinical trial path as her best option.

As for her feelings about the stem cell transplant, Robyn felt there was likely going to be a positive outcome for her due to the ORCA-1 clinical trial. Her knowledge about the trial really brought her a lot of comfort and put her at ease for the time she’d be around her family post-transplant. Robyn was lucky because her doctor was actually the primary investigator on the study. When he presented the transplant study as an option, that’s when she started to do more searching to find what patient advocacy groups were out there.

Looking back on her MPN journey, Robyn wishes that physicians would provide their patients with more patient advocacy resources, such as those available through organizations like Patient Empowerment Network (PEN). She feels fortunate that she discovered PEN through another patient advocacy website, and she firmly believes in PEN’s mission of empowering patients to gain knowledge to advocate on their own behalf. “I had the realization that in the clinical trial I was in, I was only the sixth patient, and the technology was stellar in terms of what we’re trying to do in terms of cell therapy. I just felt like patients need to know about the treatment advancements, and PEN is an excellent resource for learning about treatment and support options that I wanted to share my knowledge and patient experience with.” 

Robyn was fortunate to have a team of physicians in whose knowledge and treatment recommendations she could trust. She’s  tremendously grateful, because she knows it’s not always the case, and so offers this advice for others, “Make sure that you’re comfortable with your physicians. And if not, then move on. Don’t be afraid to reach out and to make other connections to other doctors, even across the globe. You shouldn’t hesitate to request a conference call with another provider to see if they’re aligned with your diagnosis and your watchful waiting or treatment recommendations. Patients must have the utmost confidence going through their cancer journey.”

As for the scientists who handled her sample in the ORCA-1 trial, Robyn was able to meet the scientists and saw the analytical data of her sample. She was highly impressed with the protocols that they used with the samples. Robyn was just the sixth myelofibrosis patient to join the trial. To have spent her life working on medicines for patients and then to be on the receiving end of this cutting-edge treatment for transplants made her feel very privileged. 

In her life post-transplant, Robyn has continued periodic blood work for routine monitoring and has been doing well. Two years following her transplant, Robyn’s myelofibrosis is in remission, and she has no evidence of fibrosis in her bone marrow. Her test numbers have been progressing nicely, and she hasn’t needed any additional treatment since undergoing the transplant. “I don’t have a single regret. I haven’t had a pimple, an itch, a scratch, absolutely nothing. My life has resumed exactly how it was before the transplant.”

In reflecting on her patient experience, Robyn offers this additional advice to other cancer patients, “Take a deep breath and give it some time to play out. The moment that I heard the word cancer and the risks with rapid progression, I had myself dead and buried. In my mind, what I needed to plan for was death. Prepare my family. Get everything in order. And to me, that was going to be the ultimate outcome. But then as things unfolded, I had conversations, did a little bit of research, and found out I did have some options. Things weren’t so negative in terms of progression and mortality. Don’t jump to the most negative outcome possible.”

MPN Patient Profile: Robyn Rourick Part 1

Though Robyn Rourick is a scientist by training and works for a biotechnology company, she took a mind-body approach to her myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) journey. The time that passed between Robyn’s initial MPN diagnosis and when she finally needed treatment was incredibly – and nearly shockingly – long. She was diagnosed with essential thrombocythemia (ET) 26 years after elevated platelets were shown on a routine blood test. After she saw a hematologist, they performed a bone marrow biopsy and concluded she didn’t have myelofibrosis and received the ET diagnosis. Robyn recalls of the time of her diagnosis, “I didn’t know about myeloproliferative disorders. Not many people did at the time. Nobody mentioned that I could potentially have an MPN.” 

Robyn’s blood levels were monitored over the years, and her platelets started to decrease. Though she didn’t realize at the time, her platelets were decreasing because her bone marrow was becoming more fibrotic. She was also tested for the early gene mutations (JAK2) that were discovered as more MPN research occurred but tested negative . She later switched to another hematologist who was very tuned into the gene connections. He looked at Robyn’s medical data comprehensively and was extremely attentive to any minor changes. As her blastocytes began shifting, he urged her to go see MPN specialist Dr. Gotlib. Dr. Gotlib did further analyses and classified her as having myelofibrosis, noting that when she was diagnosed with ET that her original healthcare team also couldn’t have  ruled out pre-fibrotic myelofibrosis at that time. Fortunately, Dr. Gotlib stated if he had diagnosed her with her original blood test 26 years prior, he would have recommended to simply watch and wait while monitoring Robyn’s blood levels on a regular basis. 

Although Robyn felt healthy and had no symptoms besides an enlarged spleen, as Dr. Gotlib dug deeper into her genetic profile, he found a unique mutation that suggested she was at risk for an escalation into acute myeloid leukemia mutation. He recommended Robyn for an immediate allogeneic stem cell transplant for her MPN treatment.    

Robyn then learned that graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) was a major concern for the transplant process, which can be debilitating. So she began to seek patient advocacy resources to inform her MPN journey. “I felt desperate and wanted to meet people who had myelofibrosis who successfully came through transplant. I didn’t want to just talk to a transplant person with a different disease.” Robyn went through some patient connection programs – including Be the Match, Caring Connections Program, and Patient Power – and was able to meet a few people and became quite close with one patient. 

She learned that even though transplant will cure your disease, doctors don’t always elaborate with patients on the potential for a compromised lifestyle due to  graft-versus-host disease. Sometimes patients will come through transplant in worse condition than before the treatment. Robyn had major fears about going through transplant and being able to work and do her extracurricular activities post-transplant. “I felt like I was going to be a letdown for my family and colleagues and didn’t tell my work until I was preparing to go out on leave, which in retrospect was silly.” After telling her manager, Robyn was given complete support, and realized she could have avoided carrying so much anxiety.

“For me, self-education and advocacy are important to enable yourself to have conversations about what’s possible in terms of your treatment. You don’t have to develop an in-depth understanding, but enough to have the ability to be conversational. If you’re proposed a certain pathway, it’s good to know enough to ask why. And if you’ve done some research on your own, then you can ask why not an alternate treatment approach. I think it’s really important to have some knowledge, because it builds your confidence to be able to move forward with what’s being proposed.” 

“Give it time, allow yourself to digest the information, have conversations about it, and develop your own understanding. At first, I was very closed about my diagnosis. I told my immediate family, and I told one very close friend who had gone through autologous transplant. The more that I began to talk about it and the more that I included people in the story, the easier my journey became.” Robyn also saw a cancer therapist who made some really good points to her. “She told me that ‘we’re all going to die of something, but most of us don’t know what that really looks like.’” In Robyn’s case, she had the opportunity to learn more about her disease, guide it, and direct her journey. And that opened up a whole new perspective.

The cancer therapist walked Robyn through some exercises: “What is it you’re afraid of? What do you have control over? Allowing yourself to gain control over some things will build your confidence that you can do this.” Robyn also encourages other patients to engage their network of friends and family and realize that it’s okay to depend on people. It’s not your fault that you have this diagnosis. Getting over the apprehension of telling people about your diagnosis and embracing help from others are key pieces of advice.

Robyn views patient empowerment as essential to the patient journey. She discovered Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) through another patient advocacy website and felt it brought her MPN patient experience full circle in terms of learning what’s available. “As I’m learning more about PEN, I’m just dazzled by the different forums they have to enable knowledge transfer, support systems, and advocacy.” 

Read the second part of Robyn’s MPN journey here…

Roles Reversed: Taking Care of Your Care Partner

Roles Reversed: Taking Care of Your Care Partner from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN Empowerment Leads Summer and Jeff are experiencing a bit of a change. Jeff is Summer’s care partner, however the roles have been reversed. Jeff recently had a knee replacement and is unable to do many tasks he was before. Summer has jumped in taking care of Jeff, but admits it’s harder than it looks. Watch and hear Summer’s comedic take on switching roles and stepping into the care partner role.  

Want to connect with Jeff and Summer? Email them at question@powerfulpatients.org or text EMPOWER to (833) 213-6657. 

Transcript:

Jeff:

Summer! Bring me a snack.

Summer:

Yes, I’m bringing you a chocolate bonbon.

Jeff:

I don’t want a Ghirardelli, I want a Walker’s shortbread.

Summer:

Ugh, yes sir.

Being a caregiver is not a day in the park.

Jeff:

Hi, I’m Jeff.

Summer:

I’m Summer, hi.

Jeff:

We’re your MPN Network Managers for the Patient Empowerment Network. We’re here today to continue talking about caregiving. In the last video, we talked about me being Summer’s caregiver and or different roles and what I bring to that and so on. We had a chance in the last month to actually turn the tables.

In mid-December I had a knee replacement and since then, Summer has been acting as my caregiver. Tell us how it’s been, Summer.

Summer:

Ugh, it’s been exhausting. I’m driving, I’m doing dishes, I’m emptying the garbage, I’m cooking all the meals, I’m getting everything exactly the way you want. You’re lot more of a perfectionist than I am…

Jeff:

Yup, I should be able to drive in another week or so and Summer hates driving, so I really appreciated that. And pretty soon I’ll get back to my role of doing the driving anyway. She’s done a wonderful job, really been very helpful and I’ve been extremely appreciative of it. What’s been the hardest thing for you, Summer?

Summer:

Thinking about all the little things you take for granted that you couldn’t do, like mailing your letters and emptying your garbage. That’s everything, you really have to be on the ball and think of what the needs of the other person really are.

Jeff:

Very true. We stressed that in the last video. Needs of the patient. We have a real supportive relationship in our normal marriage in general, so for us it’s not difficult, but some people may have a difficult time adjusting to being a caregiver or even being a patient.

Summer:

Right.

Jeff:

One thing you have to remember, give the caregiver time for themselves. I think I did a pretty good job trying to give you time for yourself.

Summer:

Yeah, I did my aerobics, I visited friends, I rehearsed for the play, I did my stand-up comedy, yeah, I did.

Jeff:

So, it’s worked well for us. So, as you enter into this relationship of patient and caregiver, be aware of each person’s needs. And, you should have a good experience with it.

Summer:

Darling, I have an urge for a chocolate cookie. Could you bring me one? I gotta take a nap.

Jeff:

Certainly. I’ll get it after we say goodbye to the people. Goodbye, ’til next time.

Summer:

Bye, ’til next time.

Patient and Care Partner Address the Mental Aspects of an MPN

Patient and Care Partner Address the Mental Aspects of an MPN from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN patient Summer emphasizes how important it is to have goals. One of her personal goals is to walk 10,000 steps each day! As a care partner, Jeff shares his main goal is to do whatever he can to help Summer achieve her goals. Some of their shared goals are to live life to the fullest, always live in the moment and don’t let the disease you have control your life.  

Want to connect with Jeff and Summer? Email them at question@powerfulpatients.org or text EMPOWER to (833)213-6657. 

Transcript:

Jeff:

Hi, I’m Jeff.

Summer:

Hi, I’m Summer. And hi, I’m Zelda.

Jeff:

And we’re your MPN Network Managers for the Patient Empowerment Network. Here to talk to you today about emotional and metal aspects of dealing with a severe or very serious disease. Summer has some real strong thoughts about that, so I’m going to let her tell you about it.

Summer:

Well, I think it’s really important to always have goals. And one of my first goals, this is my Apple Watch right here to keep track of my steps so I can get 10,000 steps a day. That’s really important. Of course, I’m still teaching my classes. That’s very inspiring. We’re putting on a show pretty soon. And my goal right now too is I’m getting ready for my next comedy show. I’m going to talk about the cloud and about those little people that are in the traffic signs that tell you when to stop or go. And of course I’ve got Zelda and I don’t know what her goal is, just to be a good dog. So, that’s what my goals are. To stay positive.

Jeff:

And Summer has those goals, but one serious and important thing that we decided when she got this disease was we were going to live every life, every moment of our lives to the fullest, in the moment. And that took some adjusting because I’m a real planner. We pay attention to enjoying everything that we do, each day that we do it. And, we decided early on not to change our lifestyle, not to let the disease control us, and just to keep going. And, that alone plus Summer’s fantastic exercise regimen has really done a lot to keep her in good shape and to keep her strong.

As a caregiver, my goals are do whatever I can to help her achieve her goals. So, it’s really important to live life in the moment and keep a positive attitude. Don’t let the disease control you. That’s our advice.

‘Til next time, I’m Jeff.

Summer:

I’m Summer and I’m Zelda.