We Must Make Our Voices Heard – Defend Seniors’ Right to Life-Saving Lung Cancer Screening

Last week, an advisory panel was convened by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to consider lung cancer screening for Medicare beneficiaries age 65 to 80.  This panel, which offers non-binding advice to CMS, is referred to as a “MEDCAC.” None of the 14 panel members had direct experience with lung cancer screening and the committee was chaired by a doctor with an extensive anti-screening record.  We were deeply disappointed by the process.

Recall from my earlier comments that late last year, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) completed its two-year review of evidence related to lung cancer screening and recommended that former and current heavy smokers between 55 and 80 undergo annual lung cancer screening. That recommendation by the USPSTF now makes lung cancer screening an Essential Health Benefit pursuant to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  By this time next year, nearly all private insurance plans will be required to provide coverage for lung cancer screening — without cost share or co-pay –for the USPSTF recommended population between ages 55 and 64.

Regrettably, because of our MEDCAC experience, I cannot help but worry that Medicare coverage for members of the USPSTF recommended population between ages 65 and 80 could be at risk.  This is especially troubling because the majority of lung cancer cases are diagnosed in people over age 65.

As an invited speaker at the MEDCAC meeting, I had the opportunity to bring the patient’s perspective before the panel. I was joined by leading experts in the field of lung cancer screening and management including radiologists, thoracic surgeons, a physicist and oncologist, a health care economist, the chief medical officer from the world’s largest equipment manufacture and perhaps most compellingly, nurse coordinators from two of our Screening Centers of Excellence. Collectively, we painted a vivid picture of our direct, hands-on experiences and showed that lung cancer screening is already saving lives every day and that it can be implemented responsibly, safely, cost-effectively and equitably in community settings across the country.

Despite all of this testimony and the mounds of evidence submitted to the panel prior to the actual MEDCAC meeting, I was stunned by the ill-informed comments from some panel members. Those comments served as important reminders that not everyone is as current, well-informed or experienced in screening management as we are.

So what happens now?  As I said in my MEDCAC testimony, for too long, a black cloud of despair and indifference has hovered over our community.  But now, we have real hope for survival.  And we are not going to let anything stand in our way!

This is just another bump in the long road that we have already successfully traveled together.  We will continue to work with the amazing teams of health care professionals who are in the real world, working in real time, to help real people advance responsible screening across the country.  Of course, we will work with you, too.  In fact, we need your help now more than ever!

We must take our message directly to the President and let him know what’s at stake.  Failure to provide Medicare coverage for lung cancer screening will mean that this lifesaving preventive service is an Essential Health Benefit for some, but not for our seniors.  It will result in a patchwork healthcare system and lead to the ludicrous situation where someone could have coverage for screening at age 63 and 64, but be denied coverage at 65.  It simply makes no sense.

We have created an online message that lays out the solid case for lung cancer screening for our at risk seniors. We ask that you CLICK HERE to sign it today. And please, spread the word!

Thank you,

Laurie

A Message on Lung Cancer Screening and What is at Stake for At Risk Seniors

We have reached an exciting and critical stage for the lung cancer community. In just a few days, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will hold a public meeting to consider national coverage for lung cancer screening for high risk individuals who fall within these service populations. This meeting will allow experts in the field an opportunity to review evidence, present data, discuss technology updates, showcase responsible screening already underway in medical centers nationwide and make the case for full coverage for our seniors at high risk for this disease.  This is the final step to the goal we have long been fighting for – government’s backing for this life-saving benefit.

I feel so privileged to have been invited by CMS to speak before the panel on behalf of the people -those behind the numbers and data – that stand to benefit most from this proven benefit.  Their voices must be heard and not be over shadowed by debates about percentages and economic modeling.  Too many lives hang in the balance.

We clearly have scientific evidence.  The National Cancer Institute’s National Lung Screening Trial proved that CT screening works and that it leads to early diagnosis which is more treatable and curable.  The final hurdle now is making sure nothing stands in the way of accessing this life-saving benefit for all who are at risk – and since the majority of lung cancers are diagnosed in people age 65 and older – this falls squarely on CMS to support for our seniors.

We also have best-practice care underway through our National Framework of Lung Screening Excellence and Continuum of Care.  Upwards of nearly 180 hospital centers across the country have adopted these guiding principles and are showing that responsible care can be delivered in the real world – real time — to real people.  Over half of these hospitals are community based – again proving that you don’t need to be a large academic medical center to screen those at risk responsibly.    I say BRAVO to these medical teams who have not waited – debated – or showed continued indifference to the massive and tragic impact of this disease.  They have rolled up their sleeves and are getting the life-saving job done – well and right – right now.

But beyond the life-saving benefit of screening consider how it will help us accelerate research into all aspects of the disease.  Lung cancer screening will provide researchers with much greater access to early-stage tumors and other biomarker samples that we have needed for so long to help us look at lung cancer at its beginning – not later stage.  This will advance research that ultimately could lead to finding cures for all types of lung cancer. This is a huge moment, certainly for the lung cancer community and for the larger cancer community. There is no downside to properly conducted lung cancer screening.

The stakes are high as we enter into the final decision period for CMS.  Our seniors have a great deal at stake.   But we have faced down every challenge thus far and have continued to outflank the naysayers.   I pledge to you that we will never back down until this final hurdle is passed – that coverage and reimbursement is provided to our seniors at risk and that they have equitable access to responsible screening.

Together we can achieve the ultimate goal of saving lives and increasing our army of survivors!

Best, Laurie

To Touch Just One Person

Diana_Phone-Buddy2Diana lost both her mother and brother to different cancers. She dedicated herself to various cancer organizations, helping others who had been through her experience. About nine years ago, Diana went in for a routine doctor’s appointment that resulted in a stage 3 lung cancer diagnosis. Now in remission, Diana focuses her efforts on LCA’s Phone Buddy program, one of the only lung cancer specific peer-to-peer support programs in the US. We are inspired by and grateful for Diana’s strength and dedication to the lung cancer community.

“In 2005, I was moving from New Jersey to Tennessee and called my doctor for a refill of blood pressure medicine. Right before my doctor’s appointment I began to have a pain in my back. Despite trying to ignore it, my husband convinced me to tell my doctor and I soon found myself getting a chest x-ray.

The chest x-ray showed that I had lung cancer and doctors told me I had a 15-20% chance of survival. I was in shock!  Although I smoked two packs a day for 29 years, I quit smoking 17 years ago and never considered lung cancer a threat. I am incredibly lucky to have talked to my doctor when I did.” (Under current guidelines Diana could have been considered a candidate for lung cancer screening with a low dose CT scan. Find out today if you or someone you love is at risk for lung cancer and get a scan.)

“Now, nine years after my diagnosis, I am happy to say I have been in remission for two years and dedicate my time to helping others who are facing what I once faced.”

“Having lost my mother and brother to cancer, I was always involved with various cancer “buddy” programs. Once I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I started to realize that there are limited support programs for the lung cancer community. In my search for resources I came across LCA’s Phone Buddy program, recognizing how comforting it would have been to have that resource while I was going through my treatment.”

“I became a Phone Buddy to provide hope and support to lung cancer patients. By telling them my story, I can show them there are long term survivors out there and lung cancer is not a death sentence.

“I felt very lucky to have my husband as a strong support system during my lung cancer journey. I have found that some of my “buddies” don’t have that kind of support and to them I might be all they have.  I give back because so much had been given to me when I was going through my cancer.”

“The people I connect with have a desire to talk and it is my job to listen and provide support. We, as people, need to talk. This is how we will raise awareness for lung cancer, advance research and increase funding.”

“I am always so impressed with the positive attitudes that these people keep while facing such difficult circumstances. They make me feel better…sometimes I think they encourage me more than I encourage them.  I figure if I can help just one person than I am making a difference and it is worth it.”

To find out if you are at risk for lung cancer click here.

If you are interested in becoming a Phone Buddy or want to learn more, email support@lungcanceralliance.org.

 

 

We remind you that we are here to help. For answers to your questions, for free support services or to get involved and make a difference call our toll free HelpLine: 1-800-298-2436 or email info@lungcanceralliance.org.

 

 

A Common Bond for the Greater Good

April is Volunteer Month. Throughout the month, we will be highlighting five of our incredible volunteers as “Volunteers of the Week”. We are grateful for everything our volunteers do from hosting events, talking to others touched by lung cancer or storming Capitol Hill. Their commitment to the cause truly makes a difference and inspires all of us to work even harder to save lives.

Meet Kristy and Janie from Houston, TX and whose friendship and bond got stronger after their lives were touched by lung cancer.

Kristy and Janie at a Shine a Light Event in 2013

Kristy and Janie at a Shine a Light Event in 2013

Kristy and Janie, close friends who had met through an unexpected business call in 2008, had fallen out of touch for about a year  after Kristy changed her line of work.  Janie, who had been thinking of Kristy at the time, found out that Kristy’s mother had passed away after a two year battle with lung cancer.  This brought back memories and feelings from her own mother’s struggle with the disease, which ended just four months earlier. Janie called Kristy, and for the first time both women felt they were no longer alone in their grief.

“We had so much in common and since we were both very close to our moms, speaking about them to each other was comforting to know I had someone on the other end of the phone understanding not only my grief but also all other mixed emotions with my loss,”  said Janie.

With hope of finding community, support and a platform to honor her mother, Kristy went online to see what lung cancer awareness events Houston had to offer. The only thing she could find was a Shine a Light on Lung Cancer event in November, Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Not knowing what to expect, Kristy asked Janie to take the 45 minute drive into downtown Houston for the event. After leaving, the women made it their mission to create a lung cancer awareness event in their town.

Since late 2013, Kristy and Janie have assisted in compiling a team of twelve dedicated and enthusiastic members to put on a Lung Love Walk event in November 2014, an opportunity for families and friends to come together, remember, support and raise awareness for a disease that kills more people each year than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. “Houston is a huge city and this is a moment we can blow the doors off it. Everyone is touched by lung cancer in some way and it is our job to get people talking about it, to offer a community and support system,” said Kristy.

Speaking about her inspiration for putting on the walk, Kristy said “I try and live my mom’s life, dreams and inspirations through my actions.  She made people realize that, no matter the circumstance, no one deserves to die of cancer and these people need support and help raising awareness. My mom’s story is now mine.”

“I am thankful for Kristy’s friendship and I will always treasure it because through our stories, we have learned there are many who have the same strive to help with lung cancer awareness,” said Janie.

Click here to learn more about Lung Love Runs and Walks!

Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

Shelly_GUIDEAt Lung Cancer Alliance we are focused on the lung cancer patient; offering support, answering questions and helping them on their journey. It is easy to overlook some of the most important people in the lung cancer journey– the caregivers. Those husbands, mothers, daughters, fathers, sisters and friends who are with the patient through it all. We recognized this and made a point to support the supporters, particularly at end of life or during the grieving process.

Shelly Bedrick has been a caregiver phone buddy volunteer, or what we now call a “GUIDE,” for nearly six years. She offers support and guidance and answers questions from caregivers of lung cancer patients who are at end of life stages or have lost their battle with the disease. “I do it to let people know it is going to be OK. As horrible as the times are, the sweetest moments are gathered during this time with your loved ones,” says Shelly.

Doug, Shelly’s dad, was an elementary school principal for most of his life. He was dedicated to the children, education and his family. He worked up until the last few months of his life, resigning just three months before his death. “He had a heart of gold. He was a great man, always treating everyone equally. He would do anything for anyone. He was my best friend.”

As her father began to weaken, Shelly looked for ways to help him and raise his spirits. She stumbled upon our Phone Buddy program, which connected Doug with a woman who had been through the same type of cancer and treatment that he was facing. “Their friendship was an extremely important part of his lung cancer journey. Having someone to share stories, ask questions and help him through the process was crucial.” At the young age of 65, Doug lost his three year battle with lung cancer.

After that, Shelly stayed in touch with us and soon became a GUIDE, in hopes of helping in any way she could. Now she provides support and guidance to caregivers who are helping a loved on through end stage lung cancer.  “Although it is emotional, knowing that I am doing it for my dad and helping others gives me an inner strength.”

Shelly, who leaned on her faith during her father’s death, finds that it provides her great peace to know that she will one day see her dad again. She reminds those that she works with of this and it helps tremendously.

“There is an innocence in people as they go through these difficult times. I know that having someone to talk to, who has been in their shoes, makes a huge difference. The questions get very specific, raw and honest. I tell my story, hoping that it gives them insight into what to expect and that, although it may not seem it, everything will be OK. ”

Shelly speaks with caregivers at the hardest times. Sometimes she hears from them after their loved one has passed and sometimes she doesn’t. She always follows up down the road, making sure they know they are not alone and they have a greater support system in the lung cancer community and the LCA family.

 

We remind you that we are here to help. For answers for your questions, for free support services or to get involved and make a difference call our HelpLine at 1-800-298-2436 or email info@lungcanceralliance.org. 

 

“Just One of Those Things”

Florrie with two of her grandchildren, Emma and Jack

Florrie with her grandchildren, Emma and Jack

Gayle showing off her Team Lung Love spirit!
Gayle showing off her Team Lung Love spirit!

 

April is Volunteer Month. Throughout the month, we will be highlighting five of our incredible volunteers as “Volunteers of the Week”. We are grateful for everything our volunteers do from hosting events, talking to others touched by lung cancer or storming Capitol Hill. Their commitment to the cause truly makes a difference and inspires all of us to work even harder to save lives.

Our first volunteer of the week is Gayle Foley. We salute Gayle for her desire to help others in honor of her mom and for her ability to motivate her friends and family worldwide to run for lung cancer. Way to go, Gayle!


“Just One of Those Things”
In a quiet town in England this past August, Florrie Noronha’s headaches led her to the emergency room. After some tests, her doctors discovered that the headaches were caused from brain metastases from lung cancer. Florrie was a never smoker. She was shocked and in denial. She finally told her family on Christmas Eve. At the age of 64, the mother of three and grandmother of two passed away eight days later with her family around her. Her daughter Gayle is expressing her grief through running and she is bringing others along with her.

“Before this, I had never had any close contact with anyone with cancer so I didn’t know anything about cancer really. I assumed you get lung cancer if you smoked, well my mum never smoked, was never exposed to asbestos, didn’t have a family history. She was told that her diagnosis was ‘just one of those things.’ This shocked me! I just couldn’t imagine that lung cancer could be ‘just one of those things.’

In February, I starting sitting with all of this. I am completely heartbroken to lose my mum and felt completely helpless in her battle. I decided that I NEEDED to do something positive in her honor. I feel so passionate now about this cause now, especially as it hitting so close to home. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought this could happen to us. I started a Facebook page in her honor and then found Lung Cancer Alliance.

I joined Team Lung Love and set a goal for myself to create awareness. In honor of my mom and to do something to help others, I decided to run ten 5Ks this year. This is a personal goal and I will definitely complete it. I just added a five to seven mile mud run obstacle course to the list! I ran my first 5K just a few weeks ago and I ran a time that was better than I anticipated.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the incredible, far reaching support from my family and friends around the world. I have 18 members of my Team Lung Love, which I named Florries Pearl Warriors. My sister in law has taken up running so she can do this with me. A good friend is running a 10K in England. And my cousin, is running a 5K each time I do—in Australia!

I just wanted to do something that could create awareness, and make my mother proud of my efforts.
I don’t know where this will go, but I wanted to try to do something and if nothing else, just share my story. This has hit me hard and I hope she is looking down on me, proud that I am taking this tragedy and trying to turn it into a positive.

Click here to support Gayle on Team Lung Love!

Meet Maureen, Our Resident Social Worker!

With Social Work Month coming to an end we decided to sit down with our very own resident social worker. Maureen, Lung Cancer Alliance’s Director of Community & Support Services, discusses what it is like working with lung cancer patients, how she ended up at LCA and some of her favorite memories on the job.

1. How long have you been a social worker?

I got my Master of Social Work degree in 1994. Before working at Lung Cancer Alliance, I supervised intensive case management teams at community mental health centers in DC and Chicago. I also have crisis line experience.

2. What is your favorite color?

It’s probably boring but it’s grey! I don’t know what that says about me…

3. When did you come to LCA?

In October 2005. It’s been wonderful to have contributed to the growth of the organization–we’ve more than tripled in staff since, have expanded the services we’ve offered and seen tremendous success in areas of public health advocacy and awareness raising. 

4. Why did you come to LCA/What brought you to LCA?

My father died from lung cancer and like many people, I was surprised at the disparities in lung cancer research funding and disturbed by the stigma associated with the disease. I got my social work degree at Jane Addams College of Social Work, where the focus is on social, racial, and economic justice. What better cause could I find to put my skills and experiences to good use?

5. Where is your favorite place you have traveled?

That is a tough question to answer! I am currently planning a third trip to Spain so right now, that’s my favorite.  

6. Favorite part of your job?

It is an honor to help people from all over the country understand lung cancer and find the resources they need. I also have great co-workers…and it’s really fun to work just a block from the White House!

7. Least favorite part of your job?

We lose many wonderful people to this disease and that’s very hard.

8. Most memorable story/experience at LCA?

There are so many! A very special experience was finally meeting John, one of our Phone Buddy volunteers. We’d really clicked in our phone and email exchanges and one year he and his wife came to our advocacy conference. He was a great volunteer and a wonderful man and I am so glad we got to meet in person (see below picture).

Maureen_John FINAL

9. How do you feel you are making a difference?

Besides being part of an organization that really is changing this disease and how it is managed, we can make a difference with just a single telephone conversation.  People who are diagnosed with lung cancer and their loved ones often feel confused and scared. When they call our HelpLine, we listen, provide support, information and direct them to available resources. People often tell us how much better they feel after we talked. LCA, the work we do and all our great volunteers remind me of the quote by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

10. What would you tell someone who is interested in starting a career in social work?

A social work degree can lead you in a lot of different directions and that’s exciting. I love that LCA was looking for a social worker for my position. I feel really fortunate as mine is a unique situation as few cancer advocacy organizations have social workers on staff. I wish more would!

 

 

We remind you that we are here to help. For answers to your questions, for free support services or to get involved and make a difference call our toll free HelpLine: 1-800-298-2436 or email info@lungcanceralliance.org.

Spring Forward, Fear Less

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.” – Martin Luther King

As winter passes and spring unfolds I think of this time a year ago.  On the first day of spring last year my husband Harlan and I finally took the little white holiday lights down from the bushes in front of our house.  They looked magical when we put them up at Christmas.  We had just gotten married four months earlier and we were full of hope and plans for our new life in our new home.

In January, 2013, I was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer.  As we met with doctors and began to understand what we were in for, the lights became a talisman for me.  I did not want to see those lights go out.  They seemed a beautiful way to keep the darkness at bay, literally and metaphorically, at least for a little while.  But by the end of March I had finished my chemo and radiation treatments.  There was more light each day and the spring air smelled like new life and possibility.  It was time to learn to live with cancer.

Nothing can prepare you for the day your doctor looks you in the eye and tells you that you have cancer.  Few words have the power to cause such visceral fear.  In my case, I stayed calm.  This led friends and family to say to me, “Jennifer, you’re fearless!”

I’m not fearless, of course.  We all have fear, but we can find ways to fear less.  Taking fear out of the equation, even a little bit, enables us to think more clearly, make better decisions and feel that we have some measure of control in the midst of chaos.

Here are three things that help me to stay strong and fear less:

Saying it out loud

When I was first diagnosed I wasn’t sure how to tell people that I had cancer.  A friend proposed that I avoid specific detail and simply say I’d be out on medical leave.  But I thought, no, I want to call it what it is.  I have cancer.  Stage IIIB non-small cell lung cancer.  And no, it’s not from smoking.

When I tell people, I receive empathy and offers of help.  In many cases when someone learns the exact nature of my illness I receive specific, relevant and useful information or advice.

Playing to my strengths and asking for and accepting help

The first step is recognizing your strengths and accepting help where you need it.  It can be difficult to ask for or accept help.  In our jobs, in the home, even in our friendships, we are often accustomed to taking care of others.

I’m an extremely organized person and for me it is comforting to create lists and spreadsheets to manage the flood of cancer-related information.  I am not, however, anyone’s idea of a domestic goddess, so I gratefully accepted when friends offered to arrange a meal caravan during the months of my chemo and radiation.  By relinquishing responsibility for some activities I was better able to focus on dealing with my cancer without feeling overwhelmed.

Remembering that knowledge is power

Knowledge is power but the internet is a double-edged sword, with too much information to absorb and much of it not pertinent.  Organizations such as the Lung Cancer Alliance provide thorough and thoughtful resources, designed to help patients and their loved ones deal with cancer at every phase.

I am fortunate to work with a team of knowledgeable and responsive medical professionals, and I’ll be forever grateful for their counsel, candor and kindness.  Additionally, it’s a great help to me to talk with people who have my kind of cancer, who’ve have had my kinds of chemo (cisplatin and etoposide) and who struggle with the severe side effects of the medication I currently take (Tarceva).

Getting advice from professionals, talking with people who have what you have, finding local resources – these are all critical steps for building a support network that can help minimize our fear.

I’ve been living with cancer for a year now.  There are days when this beast of a disease lays me low, but those days are the exception not the rule.  Most often I am able to think clearly about my situation and not let fear cloud my judgment.  We can all live life more fully when we learn to fear less.

Jennifer Glass

 

Jennifer Glass was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer in January, 2013.  Watch Jennifer’s Fear.Less video here.  Her column, “At the Top of My Lungs:  Living with Lung Cancer,” is published on Parade.com and The Huffington Post.  See more from Jennifer at www.facebook.com/jenglass01.

 

 

 

 

We remind you that we are here to help. For answers to your questions, for free support services or to get involved and make a difference call our toll free HelpLine: 1-800-298-2436 or email info@lungcanceralliance.org.

Hug a Social Worker

March is National Social Work Month. Ali Sachs, Oncology Social Worker and lung cancer survivor, shares her perspective on the profession and how it impacted her diagnosis.

“Hug a Social Worker”

AllisonSacks7.JPG

I’m a lung cancer survivor. It took me a long time to be able to say that without feeling like I was going to cry, throw up, or a combination of the two, all the while asking the same question any of us ask when crisis befalls us ‘WHY ME?’ But more about that later.

Just recently, I was reminded of the fact that March is National Social Work Month, something I probably should have known, since I am a social worker. But life is busy, I tend to forget these things, and truth be told….most of us social workers don’t look for recognition, we just do what we do and look back at the end of the day hopefully satisfied that we’ve done it well, knowing we’ll return tomorrow and start all over again.

I love my job. I identify myself, my skills, my expertise, my passion (other than my family) as intrinsically linked to being a social worker. It’s all I’ve ever done. The week after I received my Master’s degree in Social Work (MSW) I walked into NY Infirmary Hospital, knew I’d found my professional home and never looked back.

Through a series of job and life changes (including a move cross country), in August of 2003, I found myself in the enviable position of Oncology Social Worker, helping to open the new Eisenhower Lucy Curci Cancer Center at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, CA. As the plans became reality and the needs (of the community we serve) grew, my position grew as well. After a short period of time, along with providing social work services, I was doing community needs assessments and developing, implementing and evaluating patient and family support programs to meet those needs.

A while later, we added community outreach, program implementation, promotion of our cancer center and raising money to offer the Cancer Support Services Program. Like I said….dream job!

Who knew I’d be in need of the very same services I was helping build for others, but more about that later.

Webster’s defines ‘social work’ as:  Any of various professional activities or methods concretely concerned with providing social services and especially with the investigation, treatment, and material aid of the economically, physically, mentally, or socially disadvantaged. As definitions go, I guess this one is as good as any, but it is just too broad for me. I’m a specialist with a particular area of expertise.  So, I much prefer the definition of social worker to be about my specific work setting, my area of expertise. I prefer this definition from cancer.net: For people diagnosed with cancer, an oncology social worker is an important member of the health care team, helping them navigate the health care system and find support to manage the day-to-day challenges of living with cancer. This includes providing counseling, education, information services, discharge and home care planning services, and referrals to community resources for people with cancer and their families and friends.

That’s me, an ONCOLOGY SOCIAL WORKER. My area of expertise is ONCOLOGY, that means CANCER, but ONCOLOGY sounds a little less ominous.

Oh, and I’m a lung cancer survivor…did I mention that yet? I had (and have) an amazing team of professionals taking care of me. Radiologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, nurses, techs, phlebotomists (which when first introduced to me, I thought they were there to take care of the plants in the waiting room, not draw blood from my way too small veins), etc. They diagnosed me early, put together my treatment plan for surgery and follow up scans every six months (sometimes every three months), and celebrated with me when I reached the five year mark. But the oncology social worker I knew best, the one who was going to help me navigate through and meet the challenges of day-to-day living, was nowhere to be found. She was sitting on the floor of her closet, under the hanging clothes, waiting for the boogey man to stop scaring her and go away.

I needed support. I needed a navigator. I needed a guide. I needed more information than the physicians or nurses had the time to give me (after all, don’t all us cancer patients ask the same question five times, just worded slightly differently hoping to get a different, more acceptable, less scary response?). I needed a list of accurate, appropriate, up-to-date, non-biased web sites to turn to. I needed a support group. I needed a place to send my husband, my children if they had questions I just couldn’t or wouldn’t answer. I needed a counselor to give me the room and space to verbalize and eventually come to understand my own fears so that they would lessen, even diminish over time. I needed answers to concrete questions about services, and insurances, and home care, and on and on and on…………………I needed an Oncology Social Worker.

I didn’t love being a lung cancer patient. I mean, who would. Really. Even a martyr has their limits. But as time went on, treatment proceeded, and fear (while always present lurking somewhere in the back of my mind), receded, it got easier and day to day living, once again, became the norm.

I love being an Oncology Social worker. I’m good at it, appreciate my skills, respect & admire the patients and their loved ones that I have the privilege of serving every day. I’m honored to be part of a healthcare team made up of some of the best oncology professionals there are. I work every day to do the best I can to provide the services our patients and their loved ones need, to represent my profession in the best possible light, to acknowledge that my own journey as a cancer patient and now as a cancer survivor has contributed to my striving every day to be the best social worker I can be. And, after 30 years, I thought I knew what my chosen profession, was all about. But, it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with cancer, until I needed a social worker that I really understood.

So, if you haven’t already, ask to talk to your Oncology Social Worker. Don’t have one? Email me and I will connect you to one of the over 1300 members of the Association of Oncology Social Workers.

And, in recognition of March as National Social Work Month, go ahead and hug a social worker……….it’ll make you both feel better!

Alison Mayer Sachs, MSW, CSW, LSW, OSW-C
Community Outreach & Cancer Support Services, Director
Eisenhower Lucy Curci Cancer Center
asachs@emc.org

Love Makes the Difference for a New Hampshire Couple

A New Hampshire couple shares their unique perspectives after a husband’s lung cancer diagnosis.

By Rick Thompson

On Aug. 25, 2003, my wife Janet and I  celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.  It was a happy time as we were surrounded  by family and friends. We decided to renew  our wedding vows and we did just that, in  the same church where we first said those  words.

Just 13 days later our lives forever changed.

On Sunday, Sept. 7th, in the early afternoon, I collapsed on our living room floor with a severe pain in my chest. I didn’t know it then, but my left lung had collapsed.

The day before I had a pain in my left shoulder. I just wrote it off as a sore shoulder. It was a hot September weekend and I sat in front of a fan while I did some work. I figured I would only be about a half hour so there was no sense in turning off the fan or moving my work.

That Sunday I was admitted to the hospital because the pain in my shoulder was pneumonia, which caused my lung to collapse. While doctors were working on that problem, I learned I had lung cancer.

You don’t hear a lot after someone says the words lung cancer while looking at you. While I have vivid memories about the events leading up to those words, the few days after hearing those words are a blur.

I am a ten-year survivor, in part because of luck – when the cancer was discovered there was still a surgical option available. I am a ten-year survivor in part because of my doctors, especially a highly skilled surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital. But most of all I am a ten-year survivor because of Janet. She was not about to let lung cancer take me away.

I often say it is much easier being a lung cancer victim than it is being a caregiver or family member. As a lung cancer victim, I always knew how I felt. My caregiver, my wife Janet, and my children, Shelley and Jarrod, could only ask me how I felt and then hope I would not gloss over how I was feeling at that moment.

Janet knew better. She knows that when I said everything was fine, everything wasn’t fine. After 30 years, she could read me like a book.

After my surgery, I went through chemotherapy. In the middle of that, I was ready to through in the towel. Janet would not let me quit. She pushed, and pushed and pushed until I completed chemo.

When I think about beating the odds, I often think about boxer Rocky Graziano. He beat the odds and became the middleweight champion. He called his autobiography Somebody Up There Like Me! That could be my story as well. Somebody up there sent Janet into my life. Somebody up there likes me!

By Janet Thompson

It’s been a little over ten years, and after 40 years of marriage, the words still ring in my ears, “Your husband has lung cancer.”

The long hard road began back in September 2003 when Rick was sick with pneumonia and then diagnosed with lung cancer. We were told it wasn’t operable. We decided to go to Mass General where we learned they could operate. After a couple of surgeries, his lung was removed in November and then the chemo began.

Being the caregiver for Rick, along with our best cheerleader, our daughter, as well as our son who had to provide support long distance as he was away at school, we all traveled the long road together with Rick. He got very sick from the chemo and wanted to quit. Our hearts were broken and I wished I could take away the pain from the surgery and the sick feeling he was going through.

He might have been the patient but sometimes I think it is harder on the caregiver, feeling helpless and not being able to provide the comfort or to take away the pain. I had to find a way to encourage him.

Fortunately Rick got on track and things improved.  I’m pleased to say that this past August we celebrated our 40th Anniversary in Montreal, where we had started out on our honeymoon.

Not knowing about the programs available to Rick or myself I was fortunate to have a nurse provided through the insurance company. She would check in with me a few times a week.  It was a great support system and I found it to be very encouraging.

Which brings me to Lung Cancer Alliance. The great support system they have is not just for the patient, but for the caregivers and family members as well.  It is a great feeling to be able to pick up the phone and talk with someone.

I am so very proud of Rick and all that he has been through over the last ten years and so very proud that he is a very strong advocate for people with lung cancer.  Rick spearheads the lung cancer vigils here in Nashua, N.H.  He is a telephone buddy providing support to those with lung cancer.  He provides the opportunity for people to relate to someone who has already gone through what they are facing. He provides encouragement knowing that you can survive and the road is not as hard and lonely when someone on the other end of the phone is living proof you can survive and you can do it.

Valentine’s Day is here and I am so pleased to say that I will be celebrating it with my soul mate, best friend and lung cancer survivor of ten years.