Survivors only: Helping former cancer patients figure out what’s next
Dr. Scott Baker, director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Survivorship Program, says the concept of survivorship care is new enough to require definition.
“For a lot of people, cancer still means a fatal illness,” Baker said, “so then it’s introducing the fact that it’s not fatal for everyone anymore; there are survivors who are focused on long-term health and wellness, and they are treated with that in mind.”
Baker joined the Survivorship Program as director in February of 2009. He works with pediatric bone marrow transplant patients and also leads the pediatric survivorship program at Seattle Children’s.
Survivors served by the Hutchinson Center program tend to be of a young demographic, considering the average age of adult cancer patients. “Survivors in our program typically had aggressive, hard-to-treat cancers. The mean age is somewhere around 50,” Baker said. “They’re patients with a significant amount of life to live, and their issues often include returning to work, insurance, families and fertility.”
The Survivorship Program addresses those issues with a multitude of resources, including counseling and a personalized survivorship health care plan for each participant. Because the program is open to all former cancer patients, regardless of where they were treated, Baker spends a significant amount of time in outreach to health care organizations and physician groups.
Primary care physicians, as well as their cancer-survivor patients, find the survivorship care plan to be a great “road map” and resource for the long term, Baker said.
“After therapy, a lot of survivors are scared and wonder what’s next,” he said. “We help them figure out that phase, and we help their physicians learn what to watch for in relation to cancer recurrence and long-term effects."