Saturday, June 28, 2014

Week 4: Cancer Patients

Little did I know at the beginning of this week that I would get to work with individual cancer patient cases alongside IRMC’s cancer department! Of course, this re-sparked my desire to do cancer research (I’ve been keeping an open mind to several different medical career routes). Incidentally, I had been thinking of cancer etiologies and experiments the night before. So perhaps this will be a large part of my route to a career of helping others with prevention and healing from cancers, in addition to other diseases. I would like to start this research soon by combining it with my forthcoming senior research. 

I landed this task, unfortunately, because the “patient navigator” staff person of the cancer center had recently broken her arm and needed help preparing packets and paperwork for her upcoming meetings. The patient navigator determines which of the hospital's patients who receive tests and surgeries have cancer. That is impressive in itself. She then contacts them, collects all of their data (lab work, CT/X-ray images, statuses of surgeries, etc.) and creates packets to be referred to during the meetings that take place twice a month. These meetings are based on the type of cancers being discussed. For example, the meeting I attended this week was for lung cancer patients and the meeting two weeks from now is for breast cancer patients. Lung and breast cancer are the most common forms that IRMC sees. The patient navigator also helps to set up genetic counseling sessions that take place over video conferences with a doctor at Duke University.

The first day of working with the patient navigator, we completed the lung cancer patients’ packets. The next morning at 7 a.m., I took notes of what the doctors discussed during the meeting. There were 4 patients being discussed, each case headed by a doctor who has primary ruling for the patients’ future treatment. It was incredible how quickly the doctors discussed the details of the cancer, including whether there were actually malignant masses or if the masses were only benign. This was done while each patient’s CT/X-ray images were displayed on the projector. The doctors discussed further testing methods per the official NCCN treatment guidelines that are based on the stages of cancer and many other details. This, I realized, was a vital component to the diagnosis and treatment of patients. For instance, performing a needle biopsy on a patient who was in stage 1 of lung cancer could risk spreading the cancer cells, worsening the patient’s condition. Rather, they could perform other imaging tests to determine more about the cancer. 

The next day, I worked in the auxiliary office with the rest of the volunteers as usual and collected a great amount of data for the infectious control project. The hand hygiene practices have increased by 5.5% (progress!). By the time I finished that, the patient navigator called for my assistance with some data compiling. Working with this data also brought me to a scary realization. I didn't anticipate that many of the patients that are seen at IRMC are cancer patients. However, in totaling the data for the month of June, there were approximately 170 new cancer patients., and I was told that this was a smaller group than those of previous, busier (in-season) months. One patient was only 23 years old and had been fighting leukemia since age 17. I had seen the data in epidemiology class that cancer is now in the top three causes of deaths in the U.S., but seeing the names, ages, and diagnoses on paper makes it very real.

This being on a serious note, I am very thankful for the experiences I had this week working with the cancer department. I see a huge need for research to determine etiologies and truly effective prevention and treatment. Speaking with the patient navigator throughout the week on a professional and personal basis and discussing our agreeing hypotheses on the causes of cancers, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to help perform this research and implement prevention/treatment programs vastly into our world. At this point, I'm very anxious to begin this work and make an impact. That said, to any of you or those you know who are interested in my progress in this cancer investigation or have further suggestions, don't hesitate to contact me! I am always eager to learn more and teach more. 

Good health & B-love to all!

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