A Survivor’s Passion: Improving Quality of Life in Cancer Survivorship

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Topics include: Living Well | Self-Advocacy and Empowerment

Angie Patterson, breast cancer survivor and vice president at Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education, shares her passion for improving survivorship care at the 2017 ASCO Survivorship Symposium in San Diego. Angie uses her role in patient advocacy to learn and educate fellow survivors and physicians in her home state of Georgia.

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

Angie Patterson:

One of the main programs that I really head up in Georgia is educating people about what survivors’ needs are, what their unmet needs are. We conducted a state-wide survey and had 900 survivors complete a 76-question survey to identify their unmet needs. So we hosted a conference to start educating healthcare providers about what these needs are that survivors have. So that’s my main objective is to improve their quality of life             

But, of course, one of the top issues is the psychosocial aspect that survivors face. And that’s unfortunately something that physicians haven’t talked to them about, about the fear of recurrence, the anxiety they’ll have, the worry about a second cancer. And so it’s important for survivors to understand that these are things that are not unusual for them to be experiencing and for them to be able to talk to their doctors. So we advocate. We start educating survivors about these needs and the importance of talking to their doctors about it.

We have a website called the GeorgiaCancerInfo.org that has a lot of the resources from the American Cancer Society that are like, what are the typical questions to talk to your surgeon or your oncologist, and encourage them to take that, print it off, take it with them, and ask those questions, and be a partner with their doctor as they’re going through this. Not just sit back and be told what to do, but to engage with their physician.

People don’t realize that once they’ve been through certain types of surgery, chemo, radiation, that they really need to focus on eating healthy. They need to focus on exercise, within their limits. If they have major injuries from their surgeries, they need to talk to their physician. But they need to talk to their doctor about how to live a much healthier life and how to live within the limits of what late-term effects they may be experiencing.

We have a lot of groups in our state that a lot of the hospitals have like, one-on-one mentorship for survivors so that you can talk to someone who’s been there before. Not so much on a clinical side but to be able to talk to someone who’s heard those words, “I’m sorry, you have cancer.” But also to talk to your doctor if you’re feeling overly anxious. If you’re feeling very stressed and worried and feel incapacitated because you’re worried about your next diagnosis. Then talk to doctors about that. There are a lot of integrative oncology type of resources out there to improve on that—mindfulness, yoga, those type of things. And it’s important to learn where those resources are for survivors.

My mother is a two-time lung cancer survivor, so she was diagnosed before me. And being her caregiver and realizing there were no resources, no one helping her advocate for what she needed to learn or what she needed to do. And then when I was diagnosed, it was in 2001. Things were starting to get out there on the internet, but there wasn’t a lot of information, and it was kind of an era where you just did whatever your doctor said. But, I thought it was really important for people to be empowered and to be a part of the conversation with their doctor.                                 

So, I had a chance—I worked at Bell South, a corporation. I had a chance to leave that, because I did a lot of volunteer work and helped people who were newly diagnosed, and knew there was a lot of value in helping them. So I had a chance to leave my corporate career and go to a nonprofit that does state-wide programs. And so I’d go around the state talking about the survivorship needs survey that we conducted, educating—for example, we presented at the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians about these needs, because survivors go back to their physicians, and they have no idea.                 

Then we also are trying to help our Commission on Cancer hospitals really get a very valuable survivorship care plan out to their survivors and educate them about the importance of the plan.

I would have never had an opportunity to do something that I absolutely love if I hadn’t gone through this myself. So I love coming to conferences like this to learn more, to take back to our state. I’m not an expert, but I can bring people together and begin to educate them, bring resources I have from here back to our hospitals and our nonprofit organizations in the state. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on March 14, 2017