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Cancer Trends: Surviving and Thriving

Q&A with Sabrina Mikan, Ph.D., Director, Supportive Care Programs, Texas Oncology–Austin Central

What is causing the decline in cancer deaths?
There are three primary reasons:

  1. Behavior change, particularly more people quitting or avoiding smoking, which leads to significantly lower lung cancer deaths.
  2. Significant advances in research, technology, and medicine, leading to more effective and less toxic treatment options.
  3. Better screening, with earlier detection through testing, including genetic testing that identifies people with an increased risk of cancer.

How is Texas Oncology contributing to this decline?
Texas Oncology is on the forefront of delivering the most advanced and innovative cancer treatment to patients – including breakthrough clinical trials and personalized treatments that are more effective and less toxic with better outcomes. We also offer specialty care like brain cancer, innovative surgery, and highly precise proton therapy. Because Texas Oncology is located in communities across the state, we are able to see patients quickly and conveniently when referred by their primary care physicians, usually within three days of being referred.

How is Texas Oncology helping improve patients’ quality of life during treatment?
By providing access to care in dozens of Texas communities, Texas Oncology makes treatment more convenient and less disruptive for cancer patients and their families. Community-based care enables patients to lead a more “normal” life. Many patients continue to work, attend church, and engage with family and friends throughout their treatment.

Also, we’re working with research partners on medicine to control nausea, which is a side effect of some treatment, to improve patients’ quality of life. We work closely with patients before, during, and after treatment to provide clear instructions and information about their treatment, possible side effects, and when to call us to avoid unnecessary trips to the hospital.

The survivorship program and care plan empowers patients to know when and how to reach out to us, avoiding feelings of fear or uncertainty, and to take charge of their wellness plan moving forward. It’s a roadmap for what lies ahead, because we’re still in the journey together, and we want to help patients transition into 'the new normal.'" Sabrina Q. Mikan, Ph.D., RN, ACNS-BC, Director, Supportive Care Programs
Texas Oncology–Austin Central

How is Texas Oncology helping patients traverse life after cancer treatment?
We believe that survivorship begins at diagnosis, which is why we create a treatment plan for every patient, outlining all the care options using evidence-based research. We become navigators for our patients, talking through their options within the treatment plan.

Once we solidify the treatment plan, we meet with patients and their family members to review the Texas Oncology Patient Care Guide. We discuss the various sections in each Care Guide regarding office and after-hours contact information, what is chemotherapy or targeted therapy, basic nutrition, treatment labs, wellness, and self-care during treatment. We also review the proposed regimen, including possible side effects, introduction to survivorship and advance care planning, including My Choice, My Wishes. My Choices, My Wishes is our program which enables patients to explore and document their healthcare preferences in advance directives.

When a patient is getting close to completing their treatment, a member of their care team will re-introduce our survivorship program. A survivorship visit takes place a few months after treatment has completed and an advanced practice provider or registered nurse reviews important items with the patient, including:

  1. Survivorship care plan, discussing the completed treatment and next steps
  2. Surveillance and monitoring, including what to look for and when to call our care team
  3. Community resources for survivors, connecting them back to their primary care physician or a new doctor

Why is it important for patients to have a survivorship plan?
Over time, our care teams make personal connections with our patients. Cancer treatment is like that. Many patients see Texas Oncology as their family. When treatment ends and the relationship changes, patients sometimes feel anxious or fearful. The survivorship program and care plan empowers patients to know when and how to reach out to us, avoiding feelings of fear or uncertainty, and to take charge of their wellness plan moving forward. It’s a roadmap for what lies ahead, because we’re still in the journey together, and we want to help patients transition into “the new normal.”