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The Journal Gazette

  • Aggarwal

Thursday, September 06, 2018 1:00 am

After the diagnosis

Nationwide summit shows cancer patients they are not alone on their journey

Dr. Lakshmi Aggarwal

Dr. Lakshmi Aggarwal, a Fort Wayne physician, is board certified in internal medicine, hematology and oncology.

If you've ever spoken to a loved one in the fresh grip of a cancer diagnosis, you know firsthand how devastating it can be to deal with that disease. You have seen – up close – the flood of emotions that can only come from hearing that one has taken on a harrowing new role: that of being a cancer patient.

When a diagnosis of cancer is delivered to a patient, there are few ways to soften the sting of the words that must of course follow. Make no mistake: It is difficult for any physician to tell a patient that he or she has cancer. Although I am multilingual, I still find those words to be among the most difficult to express in any language.

A cancer diagnosis is an acutely personal event in one's life, and the struggles that cancer presents are more than merely physical. A cancer diagnosis can take an enormous emotional, financial and spiritual toll as well. In my more than 20 years as an oncologist, I have learned much about my patients' pain and suffering. I have listened as they voice their frustrations of being a patient in a large medical center being shuffled from one treatment to the next. I have wept with them during bouts of fear and uncertainty.

And while I understand how frightening and overwhelming a cancer diagnosis can be, I also know this: Cancer affects not only the patient, but also his or her family, neighborhood and community. Cancer patients are, then, never truly alone.

Fighting cancer can seem daunting at best and downright discouraging at worst. The journey can be lonely and fraught. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be that way, as there are so many resources available in Fort Wayne, and so many promising medical advances on the horizon, to report.

That is why on Sept. 21, former Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will host a national Biden Cancer Summit in Washington, D.C.

The goal of the event is simple: To focus on the patient's journey from disease prevention and onward through the many twists and turns that can come from a cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. The physicians, staff and associates of Fort Wayne Medical Oncology and Hematology share those goals, and that is why it will convene the 2018 Biden Cancer Summit on the same day from 8 a.m. to noon at the Magee-O'Connor Auditorium on the campus of Indiana Tech, 1600 E. Washington Blvd.

Topics include navigating the cancer journey beyond the disease; managing difficult conversations; preventing cancer through technology, education and access; understanding the oncology research and development pipeline; and survivorship and the path ahead.

Reflecting the importance of this annual summit, the Community Oncology Alliance Patient Advocacy Network, Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana and Visiting Nurse Service and Hospice will also participate. There is much to discuss, and while the narrative may be national in scope, the solutions to proper cancer patient care are not. Indeed, the best patient care is almost universally delivered locally.

I'm excited about the promise of this event, as it affords a rare opportunity to have a frank conversation on ways in which cancer research and care can not only save lives, but also build stronger communities and reach families in moments of urgent clinical and emotional need. Even the most educated among us will learn from the perspectives of family members, patient navigators and other care providers as they offer their insights on the realities of living with cancer and the ripple effects a diagnosis can have on families and communities.

Such is the importance of the event that there will be no charge to attend. Your advocacy, interest and participation is enough.

Our hope is that those diagnosed with cancer will never have to shoulder the burdens of their journey alone. Those who attend the 2018 Biden Cancer Summit will quickly learn that they are not.