Tag Archive for: support groups

What Do Patients Need to Know About Head and Neck Cancer Research?

What Do Patients Need to Know About Head and Neck Cancer Research? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is there developing research that head and neck cancer patients should know about? Dr. Jessica Geiger explains how treatment approaches are evolving and how patients can stay up-to-date on the latest advances.

Dr. Jessica Geiger is a medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Geiger

See More From The Pro-Active Head and Neck Cancer Patient Toolkit

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How Is Head and Neck Cancer Treated?

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What Are the Types of Head and Neck Cancer?

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Expert Advice for Newly Diagnosed Head and Neck Cancer Patients


Katherine Banwell:

Cancer research is developing rapidly. What are you excited about when it comes to head and neck cancer research? 

Dr. Jessica Geiger:

Well, I think there’s a lot of different clinical trials that are coming out in what we call the neo-adjuvant space so before you go for a surgery. Again, head and neck cancer is a little bit different when we think of other more common cancers. 

And what I mean by that is it’s one thing to be able to surgically remove cancer or to ablate it completely with radiation. The problem with the head and neck area as you can imagine, it’s such a small area. There’s a lot of precious real estate there, as I always describe to patients. And so, it’s one thing to cure the cancer, to cut it out completely. But then we have functional and sometimes cosmetic concerns after that, too. So, I think one of the biggest things that we are always trying to look to be successful in is are there therapies, are there treatments where we can shrink down the initial cancer so that the resulting surgery or the fields of radiation are not so severe? So, we’re maintaining the cure rates that we have. We’re improving on the cure rates that we have. But also thinking about how can we improve the quality of life and the function and the cosmetic outcome after their cancer treatment? And I think that’s really exciting. 

Katherine Banwell:

It is. It’s great.  And I’m sure there’s been so much development in the field, even in the last 10 years. 

Dr. Jessica Geiger:

There has. And another comment to make on that point, too, when we’re thinking about clinical trials especially. There’s really two big subsets of squamous cell cancer, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, and that’s HPV-positive that’s related to the HPV, the human papilloma virus and HPV-negative. HPV-negative is what we think of historically as being caused by years of smoking often with heavy drinking. That’s kind of the traditional head and neck cancer patient. But over the last couple of decades now, there’s a completely different disease that we have recognized. And that’s related to HPV. And these patients tend to be light or never smokers at all. They tend to be younger, different demographic of patients. The good news is those cancers seem to respond better to cancer treatment, particularly radiation- and chemotherapy-based. 

So, as I mentioned before, trying a neo-adjuvant approach to kind of reduce the impact of surgery or the impact of radiation, particularly with HPV-related disease. We know that it’s a different disease that behaves much better than HPV-negative. So, trying clinical trials to what we call de-intensify therapy. So, maintaining the high cure rate. But reducing the toxicities related to treatment so that – you know, these are younger patients. They’re cured of their cancer. But they still require a feeding tube. Or they have a lot of chronic pain in the neck. They have a lot of morbidity with the treatment. And so, trying to reduce that down to again, maintain high cure rates, but help with quality of life in the years to come. 

Katherine Banwell:

How can patients stay up-to-date on developing research? 

Dr. Jessica Geiger:

That’s a really good question. 

Every once in a while, there are sound bites or news articles that are kind of in the mainstream press and in the mainstream news. I would just encourage patients to – if they read something or see a headline to reach out to their oncology team and have a discussion. What is this research? What does it mean for me? Does it apply to me? How is this information being used for cancer treatment? How would this impact my treatment or my follow up? It’s really hard to kind of navigate through what is, in terms of research, what is immediately clinically impactful or clinically meaningful at that time. 

Katherine Banwell:

Are there any websites that you recommend to patients? 

Dr. Jessica Geiger:

The American Head and Neck Society has a good website. And there’s a couple of other, depending on what state you live in or regions of certain states.  

There’s a lot of different support groups for head and neck cancer patients that I would encourage patients to reach out. Because especially in the regional, geographic location where you are, it may be worthwhile to be able to have those conversations. Because you can walk down the street and not know if somebody’s had it. But I’ve had more patients over the last several months, especially HPV-related disease patients who have mentioned something to me along the lines of, “I had mentioned to an acquaintance or a friend of a friend. And suddenly, I know three or four other people who have had this cancer. And I had no idea. And now we’re talking about how we have to carry a water bottle with us all the time because we can’t swallow dry foods. And how we have to be very mindful of what we’re eating when we order at a restaurant.” And so, just trying to navigate a bigger world, narrowing it down to where you live to have those meaningful contacts of other patients who have gone through what you have gone through. 

CLL and Anxiety: How Your Healthcare Team Can Help

CLL and Anxiety: How Your Healthcare Team Can Help from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Many people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) experience fear and anxiety after a diagnosis. Dr. Seema Bhat explains why it’s important for patients to share how they are feeling with their healthcare team.

Seema Bhat, MD is a hematologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Bhat.

See More from Thrive CLL

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What Happens During CLL “Watch and Wait”?

Addressing Anxiety About CLL and COVID

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Many people with CLL will experience fear and anxiety, whether it’s the stress of being in “watch and wait” or worrying about regression. Why do you feel it’s important for patients to share how they’re feeling with their healthcare team? 

Dr. Bhat:

So, one of the important things to know about CLL is that CLL, at this point of time, it’s not a curable disease. It is a lifelong disease. Patients will have to deal with CLL for the rest of their life in some form or other, either on watchful waiting, or on active treatment, or if they’ll complete a treatment, they’ll have this lurking fear of relapse at any time. A large part of what I do is to help my patients understand what it means to live with CLL. And, of course, anxiety is a big part of that living with CLL. 

Although at this time, we’re unable to cure our patients with CLL, I want my patients to understand that it’s very treatable, treatments are very well-tolerated with low toxicity, and patients live a long life. They can have good, productive, and active life. They should ask their care team about resources for social, emotional, and physical support. They should let them know about their concerns, talk about their feelings.  


How can a social worker provide support, and are there other healthcare team members who might be able to help? 

Dr. Bhat:

So, yes, patients are on a rollercoaster – emotional rollercoaster with this diagnosis. With this diagnosis come lots of unknowns. Worries about possible shortened life span, anxiety over treatment, and effects of treatment. So, there’s lots to deal with, and lot of uncertainty, which causes a feeling of hopelessness for these patients. So, psychological support is very important. That’s where the role of social worker comes in. 

We get them involved to help patients deal with the diagnosis, and social workers – they can provide patients with tools to cope with this life-changing event. They use life tools like encouraging positive thinking, mindfulness, being aware of what the patient can control involving faith and family, and also involving self-care. 

That’s where we see the role of the whole team as such. If patients are having more difficulties, we can have other members of a team, like a mental health provider, connect with our patients. Social workers and other members of the team can help our patients get connected to support groups, or even to other patients who have had similar experiences. 

Peer to Peer Health Networks, Trust … and Facebook

Unless you’ve been visiting another planet lately, you’ve probably seen a headline or two (or maybe fifty) about the rising sense that the social network called Facebook might not be trustworthy when it comes to data privacy for the network’s users. Not that the barrage of headlines over the last year have been the first time the company has had to go into crisis communications mode over data privacy issues – there was a dustup over user privacy that led to a US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consent decree in 2011, which Facebook has apparently ignored in the ensuing eight years – but the current contretemps over betraying user privacy makes the 2011 headlines look like a radar blip.

The impact on Facebook patient communities, who have made extensive use of the Facebook Groups product to gather together to provide support and resources for people dealing with conditions from ALS to rare disease to hereditary cancer risk, is only just starting to break through the noise over the Cambridge Analytica story, which was how the privacy leaks on the platform were first discovered. The ongoing saga of “did the Russians hack the 2016 election,” with Facebook’s likely, if (maybe) unwitting, part in that, adds to the thundering chorus of “what the heck, Zuckerberg” that’s echoing across the globe.

Peer to peer health advice has become part of any person-who-finds-themselves-a-patient’s self-advocacy routine – just ask internet geologist Susannah Fox, who has made a successful career out of observing what people do with the information access bonanza known as “The Internet.” Facebook has become the go-to platform where people gather to discuss their health issues, usually in Closed or Secret Groups, where all kinds of deeply personal and intimate details of their lives, and health conditions, get shared. Discovering that those personal, intimate details had basically been released into the wilds of the web, willy-nilly, with no way to track where that data wound up, has rocked communities around the world who relied on Facebook to provide the connections they’ve come to depend on to manage their health conditions.

In the slow-motion train wreck that the reveal of this data leakage/breach has been, cybersecurity researchers Andrea Downing and Fred Trotter get a lot of credit for digging into the Facebook API to figure out how a Closed Group could become a data-slurping bonanza for any jackass on the internet. Trotter and health-tech legal eagle David Harlow filed a complaint with the FTC, co-signed by Downing and bioinformatics guru Matt Might, spelling out exactly how Facebook had played fast and loose with their Terms of Service for the product, and also allowing their Developer platform to become a data-miner’s paradise with a “there are no rules, really” accountability framework when it came to data snagging.

Since discovering the security vulnerability in 2018, reporting it to Facebook, getting what amounted to a “so what?” response from the platform, and then trying to figure out how to keep community members’ data safe, Andrea Downing, along with Fred Trotter, David Harlow and, full disclosure, yours truly, along with a host of other patient activists, have formed a collective to figure out how to create a community platform for patient communities *off* of Facebook. Stay tuned for updates, that’s going to be a big job, and it’s going to take time and some serious deep thinking and heavy lifting.

In a piece on the Tincture health channel on Medium, “Our Cancer Support Group On Facebook Is Trapped,” Andrea spells out the issue clearly, emphasizing that the promise of connected community that Facebook offered exists nowhere else … yet. And until it does, patient communities are indeed trapped on the network, since that’s still where they get and give the support so deeply needed by people who get a diagnosis, and who want to find out from someone who’s been there, done that, what their own future might hold.

It’s not an easy-to-solve problem, this betrayal of trust that creates a pressing need for the creation of a safe harbor. I’m putting it before you on the Patient Empowerment Network since I know that everyone who reads the pieces posted here has a stake in peer to peer health, and the trust framework that’s required for peer health resources to be effective. If trust is the new network effect, it’s incumbent on those of us who advocate for robust online peer interaction in health, and healthcare, to call for more trustworthy platforms to support our work.

Let’s get on that.