GREENVILLE, S.C. – Because of treatment advances, many cancer survivors can look forward to leading normal life spans. But many also face fears about recurrence, new cancers and even the potential of long-term side effects from the same therapies that helped save their lives. In response to a growing body of national research on cancer survivors’ ongoing needs, the Greenville Health System has launched a clinic dedicated to the ongoing care of cancer survivors. It is the first of its kind in South Carolina.
The clinic will be formally announced Sunday at the GHS Cancer Survivor Celebration. The celebration, expected to attract almost 500 people, will be held this year at the Embassy Suites from 2-3:30 p.m.
“The Lifetime Clinic is a great way to guarantee that survivors get the long-term expert care and screenings they need to help ensure that they thrive, not just survive,” said Mark O’Rourke, M.D., who is medical director of the GHS Cancer Institute’s landmark Center for Integrative Oncology and Survivorship. Through the innovative Lifetime Clinic, survivors also have a one-stop point to address issues that frequently arise in cancer survivors, including side effects and fear of recurrence but also stress, anxiety and the need to improve fitness and nutrition.
Survivors will be referred to the Lifetime Clinic when they are in the third stage of survivorship, which means that the risk of cancer recurrence is low. The clinic will ensure communication and coordination with the person’s entire medical team – including their primary physician – as well as ensure that all recommended follow-up tests for that person’s particular diagnosis and treatment are ordered.
The Lifetime Clinic, located in GHS’ Cancer Institute, is expected to serve hundreds of cancer survivors each year. Care is provided by an oncology nurse practitioner with additional training on survivorship issues. Most survivors will be seen at the clinic every six months to one year, although some may be seen as often as every four months. Depending on the survivor’s needs, the visits can even be alternated between the clinic and their primary oncologist.
In the event of recurrence of the cancer, a person is quickly referred back to his or her treating oncology team.
Long term and late side effects can be a challenge for cancer survivors. Depending on the treatment received, surveillance may be needed for the rest of a survivor’s life. Research has shown that many cancer survivors, particularly young survivors, do not get the tests they need on a regular basis to screen for late effects and for possible second cancers.
“The Lifetime Clinic is a huge benefit to those cancer survivors who want the safety net of yearly oncologist visits but, even so, dreaded those visits because of the clinical setting and related stressors,” said LeAnn Perkins, a nurse practitioner at the clinic. It may be especially helpful for patients with gynecological cancers, who have traditionally had continued follow-up with their oncologists for decades post-recovery.
“In addition to monitoring oncology issues, we are here to help survivors be as healthy as they want to be and assist them in living long, cancer-free lives,” Perkins said. “Connecting them with community activities, programs, support groups and classes can help that process. The Lifetime Clinic also exposes the survivor to the full range of services provided at the Center for Integrative Oncology and Survivorship.”
The Center for Integrative Oncology and Survivorship (CIOS) at the GHS Cancer Institute was created to help cancer survivors live a new normal life. The CIOS provides customized guidance for cancer survivors in the form of cancer survivorship care plans. The CIOS provides nutritional counseling, recommendations for activity and exercise, an exercise program at the Life Center for cancer survivors called Moving On, quit smoking classes, weight loss programs, healthy lifestyle classes, massage, yoga, acupuncture, mindfulness meditation, lymphedema therapy, support groups, consultation for “chemobrain,” individual counseling and a variety of medical referrals.
For Larry Gluck, M.D., medical director of the GHS Cancer Institute, the new clinic helps bring cancer care at GHS full circle.
“It has certainly been a goal to match the advanced cancer research and treatment available at GHS with an equally-advanced patient-centered program that focuses on the quality of life issues which are so important to survivorship care,” said Gluck. “The CIOS is an invaluable support for cancer survivors, who have the comfort of knowing that the Cancer Institute will follow them for life.”