Influential Women in the Cancer Community

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Women in the cancer community are providing support in its many forms.

With the ongoing search for a cure for cancer and increased funding for cancer research, some may think that those donning a lab coat are doing all the heavy lifting. But beyond the physical research, armies of people are working in the trenches to improve the lives of those impacted by cancer. Oncologists, survivors, nonprofit organizations, advocates, caregivers and many others are coming together to do their part.

Today, we’re featuring a blog post written in collaboration with our friends at Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Meet three women (including our very own CEO) who have been working diligently to improve the lives of those impacted by cancer from one or more of these points of view. The women where asked how cancer has affected them, what their goals are, and what they hoped to accomplish in their future work.

Dr. Lynda Kwon Beaupin, Pediatric & Adolescent Oncologist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute

kateHow has cancer affected your life?
Cancer plays a major role in my life. I am taking care of patients with cancer every day and becoming close to them and their families.. From day-to-day issues or looking at my life with a more long-term perspective, I am reminded of the challenges my patients and families face, and I have a greater appreciation for life…the small details, the bigger picture, all of it! And I bring it back to my family and how we live.

When did you decide you wanted to work in oncology?
I knew long ago that I wanted to take care of people with cancer. I am fortunate to say that I have no personal ties with cancer, but when I began learning about the science of cancer in high school, I knew I would be a cancer doctor. I didn’t know it would be primarily in younger people, but once I worked with kids, adolescents, and young adults, I knew it was the fit for me.

How did you become interested in the emotional and social aspects of cancer care?
These are unavoidable when working with this group. And I truly believe that addressing the social aspects of cancer care has a huge impact on patients, their experience with cancer, and overall outcomes.

What is your current goal with your work?
To learn more about young adults after they’ve completed treatment. The pediatric oncology world has done a phenomenal job learning about survivors of childhood cancer, but we really don’t know much about young adult cancer survivors, those who were diagnosed after age 18. Survivorship issues are wide and varied. Late- and long-term effects from cancer treatment, risks for secondary malignancies, ongoing psychosocial issues, and barriers to family building and sexual health are only a few.

What do you think is the most exciting recent development in cancer treatment?
We are able to test cancer cells at a more specific level with respect to immunologic pathways and cancer genetics. The wave of targetable drugs for these mutations is very exciting.

What are your goals for the next 5 years?
To be a pioneer investigator in young adult survivorship research and to foster collaboration with other adolescent and young adult (AYA) researchers. I helped establish CAYACC: the Consortium of Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Centers this past year, and our goal is to help learn more about young adults through a concerted effort.

Heather Von St. James, 10-year mesothelioma cancer survivor

lyndaHow has cancer affected your life?
My life was turned upside down at a time when I was supposed to enjoy being a new mom. Cancer took over and overshadowed that first year of my daughter’s life. I wasn’t able to nurse her like I wanted, I missed  the entire first six months of her life. My whole idea of what motherhood should be changed. As a result, I parent vastly differently than I would have, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

I also had to give up my career as a salon owner and stylist. I loved my career, LOVED what I did. I was busy and made a really good living doing hair and other salon services. That was almost more painful than getting the cancer, not being able to do what I loved and facing a whole future of unknown. I will say, that everything has turned out for the best. I found my voice as an advocate and activist. I feel like I’m making a real difference in people’s lives.

What do you think is the most exciting development in cancer treatment?
Immunotherapy. I’ve seen people literally come back from the brink of death. For those it works for, it is simply amazing, and it gives me hope, that in the future, if anything were to happen, there are better options for me.

What are your goals for the next five years?
I hope to make more headway in getting asbestos banned and raising awareness for mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is considered an orphan disease, and therefore does not get the funding it needs. By bringing more awareness to this disease, hopefully the funds will follow.

Samantha Eisenstein Watson, CEO of The Samfund

sampngHow has cancer affected your life?
As a two-time cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, I know firsthand how much cancer rearranges lives, especially for young adults. When my friends and classmates were planning for lives after college, I was in the hospital. When they were dating, I was focused on getting better. When they were interviewing for their first jobs, I was talking with doctors about my treatment plans. It wasn’t until I was deemed “cancer-free” that I realized that cancer isn’t free. I was lucky enough to have the financial support of my family and a mother who knew how to negotiate medical bills due to her career as an oncology nurse, I met many other young adult survivors who simply went broke due to their treatment and didn’t know how to get out from under their mounting bills.. There was very little financial support out there for young adult cancer survivors, so I started The Samfund.

What do you hope to accomplish with your efforts?
Through our grants program, online resources and education programs, we want to support young adult survivors, and make them feel like someone understands the unique challenges they are facing. It has become clear to us, through the thousands of grant applications we’ve read over the years, that many young adult survivors – really, individuals of any age – don’t just lack resources; they lack the information and guidance they so badly need.

What are your goals for the next 5 years?
We’d love to see a reduction in grant applications, since this would indicate fewer people are struggling to pay their bills, as well as the severity of needs (e.g., fewer people skipping appointments to save money, struggling to pay for groceries, etc.), and to continue leading the conversation about financial literacy and decision-making in the medical space.

Samantha, Heather, and Dr. Beaupin not only show the impact women are making in the cancer community, but remind us just how much we can accomplish if we come at this from every possible angle. Together we can improve the lives of those diagnosed with cancer.

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