The Risk Assessment Program at Fox Chase is approaching its 20th anniversary, and I could not be more pleased with the service and team that we’ve built. Mary Daly, MD, PhD, FACP, helped to establish our risk assessment program for individuals with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer in 1991, making it one of the first high risk programs in the country. Since that time, we’ve grown to include programs for prostate cancer, melanoma, gastrointestinal cancers, and lung cancer. The Risk Assessment Program gives people the opportunity to determine their risks for these cancers and build a personal plan to reduce that risk – to be proactive rather than reactive.
One family that took the proactive route is the Major/Talarico family. Joan Major, a longstanding patient of Dr. Daly, was diagnosed with breast cancer 18 years ago. She has become a great advocate for cancer research and education, even in her own family. Joan’s daughter, Dana, has been seeing Dr. Daly each year for check-ups and joined the risk assessment program. Since becoming involved with Fox Chase, Dana implemented changes in her life to reduce her breast cancer risk that have also influenced her 12-year-old daughter, Kelsey. I’ve asked Kelsey to share her experience growing up in a high risk family and the Bat Mitzvah project she created to benefit research at Fox Chase. It’s an inspiring story of how knowledge can empower even the younger generation to do something about cancer. I hope it will inspire you all, too.
Many of my relatives have had cancer, like my great-grandmother and grandmother, so my family has been involved with Fox Chase Cancer Center since before I was born. Dr. Daly and Joan James (a physician’s assistant) have known me since I was a baby, and we even like to call Fox Chase part of our family. Some people might find this scary, but I actually feel more comfortable knowing that my mom is in the risk assessment program. Although there is a chance that my mother and I could develop breast cancer, we learned different things from the doctors that we could do in every day life to lessen that chance.
Dr. Daly told us that diet and exercise are really important and so are things like staying away from smokers. So, my family took her advice and started to live a lot healthier. We make exercise a fun part of our family routine by playing basketball in front of the house or riding our bikes, and my parents practice softball with me since I’m on my township’s softball team.
Baking for a Change
We completely changed our diet, too. We follow our own version of Weight Watchers where we use portion control and eat better foods. My healthy habits even gave me a great idea for my Bat Mitzvah project this year. I wanted to do something that I enjoyed and something that would really help others, so I put together a healthy bake sale for my friends and family.
A lot of my relatives also struggle with weight, just like over half of Americans, which causes them to have health issues and raises their risk for cancer. At my bake sale, everyone can get the desserts they like but in lower calorie, lower fat versions. I’m offering things like cupcakes, fudgy chocolate brownies, peanut butter cookies, and chocolate marshmallow fudge (my favorite!) for 50 cents to $1.50– all for four Weight Watchers points or less. The best part is knowing that when I give people their orders, it could change their lives and make them realize that healthy food tastes just as good as junk food.
I’ve received a lot of support for my bake sale and, so far, I’ve raised over $150! All of the money from the bake sale will go toward breast cancer research at Fox Chase. I really appreciate everyone who has bought something or made a donation to Fox Chase. I hope that my Mitzvah project can make a difference for Fox Chase and my community, and that it will make everyone think about making healthier choices like my family has done. The risk assessment program at Fox Chase taught me a lot about how to take care of myself, and I feel a lot better knowing that I am taking simple steps every day to avoid getting cancer.
(If you’d like to support Kelsey, write to firstname.lastname@example.org)
You may have heard the recent buzz in the news about the possibility that fish oil supplements can reduce breast cancer risk. While the results of the study, conducted by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, provide a promising basis for further research, they are not definitive enough for doctors to begin prescribing fish oil as a preventative measure for breast cancer.
I’ve invited breast cancer specialist, Dr. Mary Daly, Chair of the Department of Clinical Genetics at Fox Chase Cancer Center, to help explain the study results and possible implications in terms of breast cancer prevention.
A team of researchers from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, led by epidemiologist Emily White, PhD, surveyed over 35,000 postmenopausal, breast cancer-free women about their use of nonvitamin, nonmineral “specialty” supplements such as gingko biloba, black cohosh, soy and St. John’s wort. Breast cancer diagnoses among this population were then tracked over a six-year period. Fish oil was the only supplement that appeared to have a link to breast cancer, showing a 32% reduced risk of breast cancer among those regularly taking fish oil supplements.
These findings suggest that reduced breast cancer risk may be poised to take its place on fish oil’s long list of benefits. Fish oil contains concentrated levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke; reduce symptoms of hypertension, depression, and arthritis; and boost the immune system, among other benefits.
“If you are taking fish oil now for other reasons, this is reassuring that it may have beneficial effects beside what you are taking it for,” said White, who was the lead author of the study.
Still, as we acknowledge this potentially exciting news, it is important to consider a few things:
While the study’s findings are not definitive enough to prove disease prevention, their significance has spurred further investigation. Researchers at Harvard are initiating a randomized controlled trial of vitamin D and fish oils in older adults, and other similar studies are likely to follow.
As more research is conducted on this topic, the closer we may become to proving a conclusive link between fish oil and reduced breast cancer risk. So, as they have inspired further and more comprehensive analysis, White and her team of researchers have made an important addition to the realm of breast cancer prevention research.
Learn more about breast cancer prevention research at Fox Chase.
This past week, Joanne Hambleton, RN, MSN, NE-BC, Vice President of Nursing and Patient Services, and Bonnie Miller, RN, BSN, OCN, Administrative Director of the Women’s Cancer Center, sat down with Marilyn Russell at BEN-FM to talk about two great programs at Fox Chase.
Joanne shared her experience with our new initiative Love Versus Cancer, which we introduced to you a few months ago. It truly continues to showcase the resilient spirits and love of patients, caregivers, and family members among the Fox Chase community.
However, I want to focus on patient navigation, which Bonnie had the opportunity to speak about with Marilyn. Our nurse navigators at the Women’s Center are an essential part of the treatment team, working both with patients and behind the scenes to create the best patient experience possible.
So what exactly does a nurse navigator do, and how does she affect your experience?
Navigation programs differ widely from hospital to hospital. I like to think of our program as an extension of our treatment philosophy: care for the whole individual – physical, mental and emotional. It can be extremely confusing to figure out all of the details necessary for cancer care, so our nurse navigators are with you from your very first call for an appointment. The navigators help you coordinate treatment schedules between various doctors, book follow-up tests and even arrange meetings with social workers to review logistics after care. They get you from point A to point B as smoothly as possible.
Perhaps more importantly, nurse navigators provide a unique emotional support system. These are professionals who understand your course of treatment and have extensive experience with patients going through a similar process as you. They can suggest techniques to reduce the stress and frustration for the issues that you are experiencing, such as treatment side effects.
They are there to listen if you need to talk through your concerns— and they are always thrilled to share your joy after positive results! Whatever you need, the nurse navigators are here to ensure your overall well-being.
This is only a brief overview of what our nurse navigators mean for our patients. If you have worked with one of our navigators, I encourage you to comment and share your experience. Who better to describe their impact than those who have experienced it?
To learn more about our patient navigation program, and to catch up on the latest with Love Versus Cancer, listen to the “Woman of the Week” podcast with Joanne and Bonnie.
Until next time –
Robert Burger, MD, Director, Women’s Cancer Center at Fox Chase Cancer Center
Hearing that you have cancer is one of the most life-changing pieces of news you can receive. You will suddenly have a list of decisions to make, from where to go for care to what course of treatment you feel most comfortable pursuing. Perhaps one of the most challenging decisions, however, will be how to discuss your cancer diagnosis with your child. New research shows that 18 percent of newly diagnosed cancer patients are parents to one or more minor children. With numbers like this, Fox Chase knew it was essential to provide resources to help families navigate this new phase of life. I’ve invited Luanne Chynoweth, Director of Social Work Services at Fox Chase Cancer Center, to introduce you to some of the resources we provide for patients, as well as some tips on talking to your child about cancer.
‘Life can change in a second. Social workers are here to help.’
In Social Work Services, we have a motto: ‘Life can change in a second. Social workers are here to help.’ And how quickly life changes after learning you have cancer. When you are the parent of a young child, many thoughts and emotions arise: You worry about what and how much to tell your child, and how he or she will react. You feel vulnerable and scared of how the disease will affect your parenting, and you may even be angry this is something with which your family has to cope.
Along with eight other social workers, it’s my job to look past the physical care of the individual patient (your doctors have that covered!) and focus on these psycho-social aspects of cancer – how you feel about being diagnosed with cancer and how those who love you feel about it.
To provide an outlet for your emotions, Fox Chase offers individual and family support services, such as a six-week support group for cancer patients who are parents of children. Mothers and fathers in this weekly group generally range from mid 30s to early 50s, and their children, ages 7 to 12. (More information on Kids’ Night Out)
Children meet in a separate room from their parents to participate in games and activities designed to let them express their feelings. As for the patients and parents, I have two core missions within the group: First, to give them a space to air their fears and joys as well as build a network of other people who are experiencing similar issues; and secondly, to educate them and arm them with tips to navigate this new facet of parenting.
The StrongTogether community is an excellent example of the type of community I hope to provide cancer patients through our support groups. As for the education component, I’d like to briefly share some of my essential tips for parents struggling with communicating with their child:
Of course, it is easy to provide these suggestions, but putting them into practice will be a work in progress. Social Work Services is here to guide you through each step – every up and down.
During my 20 years at Fox Chase, I’ve learned a lot about the power of the human spirit in the face of tremendous hardship. I’ve met countless families going through this difficult period after a parent’s diagnosis and have seen them come together in truly inspiring ways. Whether you have just been diagnosed with cancer or are in the later stages of care, I encourage you to take advantage of our support resources. Because your life may have changed in a second, but your family’s love is forever.
All the best,
Director of Social Work Services