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Friday, June 19, 2009

My Heroes: UCLA Livestrong Survivor Specialists, Drs. Casillas and Ganz

Today I highlight two doctors who are part of my long-term cancer survivorship medical team, Dr. Jackie Casillas and Dr. Patricia Ganz. Together, they make up the UCLA Livestrong Survivorship Center of Excellence at UCLA Medical Center. Since the Fall of 2006, they have bought this new service to cancer survivors in Los Angeles and all of Southern California with the help of a grant from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. This is an invaluable service that before 2006 did not exist at UCLA.

What makes these doctors' efforts unique, pioneering and heroic are:
  1. their acknowledgment and validation that cancer treatments cause late effects in cancer survivors. I have often said that, back in 1988, my oncologists forgot to give me the owner's manual to this new and strange behaving cancer-free body that they returned to me. For over 18 years, most doctors just scratched their heads and thought I was a hypochondriac (or worse!) It wasn't until I was seen by Dr. Casillas for the first time in October 2006 that I really felt like a doctor got it (and me) about being a long-term cancer survivor.
  2. their interest and drive to further both patient care and research in this long overlooked area. Dr. Ganz was a member of the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council Committee that wrote the book From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition and Implementing Cancer Survivorship Care Planning. Dr. Casillas is part of the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study and a member of the Children's Oncology Group's Long-Term Follow-Up Guidelines Task Force.
  3. the time and attention these doctors take with each cancer survivor that comes to see them. In my experience, it is rare to find a doctor that has more than 20 minutes to spend with you. Each time I go for follow-up with the Vital Information and Tailored Assessment (VITA) program, I spend at least (and often more than) one hour with Dr. Casillas and up to an additional hour with the nurse practitioner and social worker. I received a comprehensive multi-page survivorship care plan after each visit and referrals to other medical specialists for follow-up of the late effect issues identified in my visit.
Dr. Patricia Ganz is an adult oncologist who is best know for her work in the area of breast cancer. She has also lead the way in research on the assessment of quality of life for cancer patients. She has been a doctor and member of the medical school faculty at UCLA since completing her training in Hematology and Oncology at UCLA in 1978 and she has been the director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control Research at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center since 1993. The recipient of numerous accolades and honors, she was awarded an American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professorship for Enhancing Patient Outcomes in 1999.


Dr. Jackie Casillas is a pediatric oncologist who has been on staff at UCLA since 2001, after completing a fellowship in pediatric Hematology and Oncology at Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA. Her research interests include access to care, quality of life and quality of care for long-term survivors of childhood cancer. She is an active member of several organizations and committees, including the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.

Words can not express how validated, understood and relieved I feel each time I leave my yearly appointment with Dr. Casillas. These doctors and this program is a godsend to long-term cancer survivors like me. Thank you, long-term cancer survivor health care advocates, and my personal health care HEROES, Drs. Casillas and Ganz!


























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