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GBMC's Cancer Survivorship Celebration, June 2019

Survivorship program helps patients better cope with a cancer diagnosis


In partnership with Fox45

July 1, 2021
The term "cancer survivor" can mean something different for everyone. For Robert B. Donegan, M.D., Chief of the Division of Medical Oncology at GBMC's Sandra and Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute, a person becomes a survivor at one specific moment.

"Survivorship starts at the time of diagnosis. The moment a patient is told they have cancer, they're surviving that cancer," Dr. Donegan says.

Dr. Donegan is part of the Berman Cancer Institute's Survivorship Program, a multi-team approach to treating cancer that encompasses the patient's entire wellbeing with comprehensive and continuous services during treatment and beyond.

"What is central to survivorship care is a broad appreciation for the entire patient experience. It is not simply a focus on treating the cancer itself. It also means being appreciative of the short- and long-term physical side effects of treatment, the mental health overtones, the impacts on families and jobs as well as the financial burdens," Dr. Donegan says.

At GBMC, when a patient reaches a milestone in their therapy, they may meet with a Survivorship Coordinator who further addresses these issues and provides important supportive literature and handouts regarding survivorship care. A printed summary of the treatment received is also given to the patient.

The Survivorship Program also helps patients with:
  • Managing some of the side effects of cancer treatment, including physical and body image concerns.
  • Regaining physical strength and tips on how to live as actively as possible.
  • Making positive dietary changes and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Learning to live fully and dealing with concerns about returning to work.
Dr. Donegan says the Survivorship Program at GBMC isn't executed simply by one department or team. Everyone who interacts with the patient plays a role.

"Physicians, nurses, social workers, and many others who touch the patients' lives help to identify survivorship needs from the time of diagnosis."

Dr. Donegan adds that GBMC's various care teams and departments work closely with each other to give patients an integrated approach to their cancer care.

"We have the benefit of being a smaller and closely-knit organization. We are all in the room together, literally and figuratively, and I think that does a world of good for the patients. We put a lot of shared heart and soul into what we do, and I think the patients appreciate that."

There are currently close to 17 million cancer survivors in the United States, and that number is expected to increase to 22 million by the year 2030. June is National Cancer Survivor Month, a time to celebrate those who have fought the disease and those who are currently in treatment.

Dr. Donegan stresses that even though improvements in care, treatment, and screenings mean more people will survive a cancer diagnosis, people need to recognize the effect a diagnosis has on the rest of a person's life.

"We have to broaden the definition from people living with cancer to living through cancer, and hopefully, for some, beyond cancer."

Learn more about the Survivorship Program at GBMC.
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