Health-care consulting for families facing a cancer diagnosis

Cancer Champions offers compassionate guidance and clarity to you and your loved ones throughout your cancer journey.

As your trusted guide, we empower you and your family with knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions about your cancer care and regain your peace of mind.
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With Cancer Champions,
You Don’t Have to Face Cancer Alone

If you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed and anxious by a cancer diagnosis, compassionate support is available. Cancer Champions can ease your fear and uncertainty by helping you and your loved ones understand your specific disease, collect personalized healthcare information, evaluate your treatment options, and make informed decisions. 

Combining oncology knowledge with genuine compassion makes Cancer Champions a trusted advisor that complements your cancer care team and provides peace of mind throughout your cancer journey. Call Dana to learn more about how she can help to create a personalized roadmap to guide you and your family.

CONSULTATION

When you are presented with a difficult diagnosis, most likely you don’t know what you don’t know yet. Because I have professional healthcare experience and have personally been through several cancer journeys, I compassionately work with you to create a personalized roadmap to help you and your family navigate the journey. I also provide resources and informationto to help you take the first steps.

EDUCATION

When you are making critical decisions — you need access to the most relevant information, tailored to your unique situation. With both professional and personal experience researching treatment options and supportive care solutions for individuals facing cancer, I am uniquely qualified to offer families the types of information and resources they will need to make better informed decisions about their care.

FACILITATION

Upon hearing a cancer diagnosis, emotions often take control and inhibit decision making. Anxiety and fear may stifle important conversations that family members and loved ones need to have with the individual fighting cancer. I can help to facilitate these important but difficult conversations, with compassion and a kind and open heart.

From our inbox:

When my father was diagnosed with cancer I was in shock — and living 600 miles away. I knew he had been dealing with prostate cancer several years earlier, but I had no idea his cancer had returned and was so advanced.  

Dana was a true blessing. She went to see my father and assessed the situation quickly. Her knowledge of cancer was critical. She listened to the doctors and asked the right questions. She was far better equipped than us to discern what the doctors were saying — and counsel us appropriately. She monitored my father during his stay in the hospital and helped us navigate the transition to hospice. Dana was compassionate and a true professional all the way through to the end.

The nicest thing about working with Dana is her compassion. She has experienced the loss of her own parent to cancer and knows the confusion, uncertainty, and heartbreak involved. She is able to professionally communicate with the medical staff and gather the correct information — and translate it to us in an understandable way. Dana cried with us, prayed with us and was not afraid to be honest. I respected that.

— L.P., Atlanta, Ga

From our inbox:

As someone diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer just 5 months ago, I was overwhelmed and confused. I wasn’t sure whether my doctors were doing what I needed. I asked Dana to review my case and it was the best thing I’ve done since diagnosis. I’m so grateful I made the decision to work with Dana. For a very reasonable fee, she actually did more than expected. She is smart, organized, prompt, and compassionate. I am now much more confident regarding treatment options and what my doctors should be doing. My head has stopped spinning and I can sleep at night. Worth every penny.

— Lori R

From our inbox:

“It’s difficult to express in words the importance of an advocate when faced with a life-changing scenario like cancer. Dana was amazing, providing incredible counsel and guidance that was critical in the early days of our diagnosis. I could not imagine going through this again without the caring, loving expertise that Dana Hutson brought to our family. She is an angel.”

-Eric

From our inbox:

“5 stars is just not enough for Dana Hutson. Dana has been a godsend to our family.  We lost my elderly father with Dementia after a cascade of events resulting from an ER visit.   My family has been struggling to bring closure to this situation.

I met Dana after a presentation she gave . During the presentation she gave an example that exactly described the experience we had at the hospital with my father. We hired Dana to go back and research the entire 30 day hospital experience and assist us in understanding what happened. Dana spent numerous hours reviewing hundreds of pages of notes from 4 different hospitals.

Our experience is far too common across the country. Unfortunately, we didn’t meet Dana until after my father’s death. If we had had Dana’s guidance, our family’s  outcome may have been radically different. I highly recommend seeking Dana’s assistance in advocating and supporting you during any type of medical situation. We will forever be grateful to Dana for bringing closure to our family.”

-Maureen

From our inbox:

“Money can’t pay you back for the wisdom you provided my family.”

From our inbox:

“You have been an angel that came into our lives…we could not be on this journey without you…”

From our inbox:

” working with Dana has been an absolute blessing for my family. She was able to quickly assess my mom’s situation and immediately offer solutions that made a difference. Her knowledge and tireless legwork is a gamechanger for families trying to negotiate the healthcare system.”

-Sam

7 Questions to Ask Your Oncologist

It’s helpful to have a list of questions to ask your doctor when you are presented with a cancer diagnosis. Here are 7 questions to ask at your next doctor’s appointment.

Recent articles

Complementary & Alternative Medicine in Cancer  (CAM)

Complementary & Alternative Medicine in Cancer (CAM)

Social media and the Internet have increased our opportunity to amass information and form opinions around individual treatment decisions. As a result, there is an increased prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine in cancer care in the U.S.

Most of the information gained on complementary medicine comes from family, friends, or the internet, making it extremely difficult to discern reputable sources from ones to be wary of.

Some of the most common reasons patients seek to utilize a complementary or alternative medicine are:

  • Helping to cope with the side effects of cancer treatments, such as nausea, pain, and fatigue
  • Comforting themselves and easing the worries of cancer treatment and related stress
  • Feeling that they are doing something to help with their care
  • Trying to treat or cure their cancer

 

For this blog, we will define the differences between complementary and alternative medicine and discuss the integration of the two into traditional cancer treatment.

Know the Difference Between Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Standard or traditional cancer regimens have been clinically researched and proven to be safe and effective for one or more types of cancer.

Examples of standard treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormonal therapy.

There are also medicines to help with many of the side effects of cancer treatments, such as anti-nausea medications, and growth factors that have been clinically proven to be effective and safe.

Complementary treatments refer to supportive therapies that are used alongside traditional or standard treatment regimens.

The use of complementary treatments may improve wellbeing and quality of life as a person undergoes traditional treatment.

Some examples of mind-body complementary therapies are meditation, physical activity, acupuncture, yoga, guided imagery, reflexology, and massage. There are also biologically based practices such as dietary supplements and botanicals.

What is Alternative Medicine?

Alternative medicine differs from complementary medicine in that alternative medicine is used instead of standard medical treatment.

Alternative medicines have minimal to no scientific research to prove their ability to prevent, diagnose, or treat cancer. One example would be to use a special diet to treat cancer instead of traditional therapy.

It is important to note that if the claims made about an alternative treatment seem too good to be true, unfortunately, they probably are.

As I have said before, cancer is not one disease but over 200 diseases and is very specific to each individual. There are unique characteristics, exposures, grades, stages, and genomic profiles to consider in each person’s situation. What may have been effective for one person does not mean it will have the same results for someone else…even if the cancer type is the same.

It would be prudent to seek wise counsel to gain a thorough understanding of the pros and cons before deciding to enroll in an alternative medicine protocol.

How Do I Know if Complementary and Alternative Medicine Is For Me?

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a branch of the National Institute of Health,  is responsible for conducting and supporting research and providing information about complementary health products and practices.

Examples of information gleaned from their website:

  • Topics from A to Z
  • Tips on Complementary Health
  • Science and Safety information

 

Many oncology providers have become more aware of promising integrative therapies and many of the larger cancer centers offer integrative oncology services.

It is important to note that although many integrative therapies can be helpful, others have been proven to have negative interactions with some standard cancer treatments or other medications.

The best way to incorporate these therapies into your cancer care is to talk to your healthcare team about how to safely integrate complementary therapies with your current treatment plan.

Integrating Complementary Medicine Into Your Treatment Plan.

Integrative oncology is the use of complementary therapies along with conventional medicine to treat a cancer patient’s mind, body, and spirit.

Integrative therapies can help with the goals of treatment, treatment of side effects, and distress relief, and may help with adherence and treatment results.

Some therapies that are thought of as integrative modalities:

  • Mind-body methods – mindfulness, biofeedback, cognitive-behavioral therapy, mediation, relaxation, guided imagery, hypnosis, yoga, music therapy, creative/expressive therapies, and spirituality.
  • Biologically based practices – vitamins, herbs.
  • Body-based practices – massage, chiropractic interventions, reflexology.
  • Energy medicine – Reiki, Tai chi, therapeutic touch.
  • Other medical delivery systems – Chinese medicine such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and naturopathy.

 

Your healthcare team can help guide you towards trusted resources to learn more about complementary therapies and refer you to integrative practitioners at your cancer center or in your area. An oncology social worker or patient advocate can assist with coordinating care and facilitating communication amongst providers.

It is important to note that not all medical insurance plans cover integrative treatments, be sure to check your specific plan’s coverage and provider network.

5 Things To Avoid After a Cancer Diagnosis

Have you just received a cancer diagnosis? Aren’t sure where to start? Here are 5 things to avoid after a cancer diagnosis:

1. Don’t Engage in Haphazard Google Searches

Most of us will admit that our knee-jerk reaction after learning of a medical diagnosis is to search the internet. Some of us are sorry we did.   Others are given a sense of control. 

Amassing information often helps us feel proactive and in control of a very out-of-control situation. Frequently, it is the family or friends of patients who dig into the data to provide support or assistance. 

I  feel the Internet can be a valuable resource. However, I am also aware that it can also be a major source of fear, stress, and anxiety.   

Try typing “cancer” into your search bar, and you will find it yields 3,740,000,000  results. “Cancer prognosis” yields close to 3 billion results.   With all of that data, there is plenty to be fearful and anxious about. 

I recognize the choice to dive into the Internet is a personal one. However, you should avoid doing so haphazardly. If you choose to dig in, I suggest you do so with the guidance and expertise of someone who can lead you to vetted resources, interpret, and manage the data to make the most of your findings. 

If you’re interested, read our blog covering 5 questions to answer about your cancer before searching the internet.

2. Don’t Take On Someone Else’s Story

Unfortunately, cancer will affect 1 in 3 Americans in their lifetime. That means almost all of us will know someone who will have a direct or indirect experience with cancer.  

It is human nature to want to “share” our experiences, and we do so for a variety of reasons.   

I remember the myriad of strangers who wanted to share their “birth stories” with me during my pregnancy (whether I wanted to hear them or not).  Some of them were pretty horrific. 

However, the point is this: even if someone has been given the same diagnosis (lung cancer, for example) it can be an entirely different disease from person to person. 

In 2003, the completion of the Human Genome Project marked a dramatic shift in the understanding of cancer and other diseases. Researchers mapped the entire human genetic code and discovered that every human cell is made up of 20,000 to 30,000 genes.  

Each of us has the same set of approximately 20,000 genes, with slight variations in each gene. These variations create individual differences among people.  For example, we all have a gene for hair color, however, slight variations of the gene dictate redhead or brunette.

The human body contains 50 trillion cells. Within the cells are DNA, or the instructions for how the cell functions. Genes are found in the DNA of the cell, and they provide that cell’s  “recipe” for how quickly it grows, how often it divides, and how long it lives. This recipe provides very specific instructions to ensure the cell remains healthy and functions correctly. 

 As a cell goes through the natural cell cycle, it makes copies of its recipe during cell division. With each division of the cell the probability of a mistake increases. As you hand recipes down from generation to generation, each transcription of the recipe poses a greater risk for mistakes and/or alterations of the end product. 

Mistakes in the cell’s recipe are called mutations. A disruption in the normal cell cycle (cell growth, division, and death) can turn healthy cells into precancerous cells, which sometimes multiply and evolve into cancer cells. Cancer cells are rogue cells growing out of control.

 All cancers begin with a mistake in the recipe when one or more genes in a cell become mutated.

Your cancer is unique. No one’s cancer is exactly alike. (Even if two people both have lung cancer.) 

3. Don’t Face Your Cancer Diagnosis Alone 

Another thing to avoid after a cancer diagnosis is isolationism. Now is not the time for multi-tasking. 

A cancer diagnosis comes with a wide variety of physical, emotional, and logistical challenges. Even the most self-sufficient individual can quickly become overwhelmed. This is not the time to try to do it all yourself. 

Research and coordination of care are time-consuming, and they compound the existing stress and anxieties brought on by cancer. If this seems overwhelming to you, there is help. There are national and local resources available to help you meet your specific challenges in the following areas: 

  • General Information. Ask your physician for vetted sources of information about your diagnosis.
  • Emotional Support. It is not a sign of weakness to seek the support of patient support groups, individual counseling, or peer-to-peer support. Such resources can assist you in managing the loneliness, fear, or anxiety that often accompanies cancer.
  • Financial Assistance. When facing a cancer diagnosis, money may be the last thing on your mind. However, a 2011 study by Duke University showed the average cancer patient in the U.S. pays over $8,500 a year in out-of-pocket medical expenses (not covered by insurance). Cancer is an expensive illness, even with insurance. There are resources out there to assist you in managing the cost of cancer.
  • Home Care. There is a wide range of health and social services that can be administered in the home.  Engaging the expertise of someone with insights into the various options is very helpful in navigating the options best suited for you.

4. Don’t Agree To Things That You Don’t Understand

Your initial appointment with your specialists will be the most amount of time you will have with them throughout your treatment. 

After your initial visit, the average amount of time your physician spends face-to-face with you will be 8 minutes. (Yes, this is about the same amount of time it takes to grab a latte or order something on Amazon.)  

So how do you ensure these precious moments with your doctor will be used wisely?  Here are some tips for maximizing your time with your doctor:

  • Before you go. Gather the questions you will need to have the answers to make a confident decision. Prioritize your decision-making in order of importance. Identify someone to go with you as a second set of eyes/ears. Determine what you want to get out of the appointment. What is your objective? 
  • During your appointment. Ask questions for clarity when things are not clear. Take notes or record the consultation to refer to later. Make sure to recap what you heard the doctor say and the next steps you are to take. Do not leave until you understand your diagnosis, what your options are, and what treatment entails. Continue to ask the clinician to explain in terms you understand until you have a clear picture of what is being presented to you. If you require additional tests, consults, or second opinions, ask if the office will assist you in scheduling those appointments. Remember that you do not have to continue your care with the “referral” that was given to you upon diagnosis. Most insurances will cover the cost of a “second opinion.” 

5. Don’t Be Afraid To Share Your Wishes With Others

Advance care planning is not a topic that most of us address until it becomes necessary. (And then, it is often too late.) At any age, a medical crisis could render us too ill to make our own healthcare decisions.

I know for me, it felt like I was jinxing it. I thought that if I planned for the worst, then somehow I was taunting fate for it to happen.

The reality is, we never know when an accident or a medical crisis will occur. Even if we aren’t currently sick, planning for our future health care decisions ensures that we will receive the care we want, especially if we are unable to speak for ourselves.

Planning for your future healthcare is something we all should do regardless of our current health status.

The reality is that having the conversation does not expedite or ensure the outcome. Not only that, but it makes things less chaotic, should physicians or family members ever be put in the position to make decisions on our behalf.

If you’re facing the burden of a cancer diagnosis, know that you’re not alone. Contact us today, and we can schedule a complimentary get-to-know-you call. Hopefully, we’ll be a fit.

5 Questions to Answer About Your Cancer (Before Searching the Internet)

Most of my clients admit to conducting a knee-jerk search of the internet as soon as they receive a cancer diagnosis. For some, they were sorry they did. For others, it provided a sense of control.

Amassing information often helps us feel as though we are being proactive and taking control of a very out-of-control situation. Frequently, it is the family or friends of clients who dig into the data on their behalf, in an effort to provide support or assistance. 

Maybe you’ve heard from friends, family — or even your healthcare provider — to avoid the internet. 

Personally, I feel that the internet can be a valuable resource. However, I am also aware that it can be a major source of fear, stress, and anxiety for many.   

To further illustrate what I’m talking about, go ahead and type “cancer” into your search bar. It will yield 3,740,000,000  results. On a similar note, “cancer prognosis” will yield close to 3 billion results. With that quantity of data, there is plenty to be fearful and anxious about.

I fully recognize that the choice to dive into the internet is a personal one. However, if my clients want to dig in, I will help guide them to vetted resources and interpret/manage the data that they find.

If you’re interested in using this powerful tool to gain a better understanding of your situation, there are a few tips I’d like to offer for your consideration. 

Before embarking on your internet search, there are some questions you should ask your doctor about your cancer. The answers to these questions will help you refine your search, giving you a better chance of uncovering relevant information:

What type of cancer do you have?  What grade and stage? 

Cancer is actually more than 200 diseases with a common characteristic. That characteristic is simply a healthy cell that has gone rogue. In a healthy body, cells grow and divide in a controlled fashion, replacing old, damaged, or dead cells. This process is part of the normal, regulated cell growth. 

Cancer occurs when this natural process is disrupted. When cells ignore the body’s signal to stop, or the signal to stop is not properly applied, cells continue to grow and multiply, ultimately forming tumors in the organs, tissues, or blood. Cells that grow out of control are called malignant, and they are the result of a complex process (not merely a single event).

So, the first thing you need to know is what type of cancer you have and what stage it is in.  

Your doctor can give you this information, and it might also be found in your pathology report. A pathology report is a medical document that is written by a pathologist (a physician that is trained in evaluating cells, tissues, and organs). The report provides your specific diagnosis, based on the examination of a tissue sample taken from your tumor during a biopsy. 

Cancers are classified based on the organ or type of cell in which they originate:

  •     Carcinomas are cancers originating on the skin or tissues lining internal organs.
  •     Sarcomas are cancers occurring in the bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue.
  •     Leukemias are cancers that occur in cells in the blood or bone marrow.
  •     Lymphomas are cancers occurring in the cells of the immune system and lymphatic system.
  •     Central nervous system cancers occur in the cells of the brain and spinal cord.

Once you know the kind of cancer that you have, its grade, and its stage, you are on your way to narrowing your search. 

As helpful as this information is, it is still fairly broad.  For example, a search for “colon cancer stage 3” produces a daunting  4.5 million results, and “breast cancer stage 1” yields over a billion. 

The next question provides another layer of information that helps to differentiate your search. 

Do you have biomarker or molecular testing information for your tumor? 

In 2003, the completion of the Human Genome Project marked a dramatic shift in the understanding of cancer and other diseases. Researchers mapped the entire human genetic code and discovered that every human cell is made up of 20,000 to 30,000 genes.  

Each of us has the same set of approximately 20,000 genes, with only slight variations creating individual differences among people. For example, we all have a gene for hair color, however, slight variations of the gene dictate redhead or brunette.

The human body contains 50 trillion cells. Contained within cells are DNA, or the instructions for how a cell functions. Genes are found in the DNA of the cell and tell that cell how quickly to grow, how often to divide, and how long to live. Genes provide very specific instructions to ensure the cell remains healthy and functions properly.  

As a cell goes through its natural cell cycle, it makes copies of its genetic code during cell division. However, with each cell division, the probability of a mistake increases. Just like handing recipes down from generation to generation, every transcription of the code increases the chance of a mistake, which would alter the end product.

Such mistakes are called mutations, which are disruptions in the normal routine of cell growth, division, and death. Mutations can turn healthy cells into precancerous cells, which sometimes multiply and evolve into cancer cells (cells that grow out of control).

All cancers begin with a mistake in the code, when one or more genes in a cell become mutated.

Your cancer is unique. It is in the genes. No one’s cancer is exactly alike (even if two people both have lung cancer). 

Although all cancers share the commonality of cells growing out of control, the reasons for cell growth vary depending on several factors.  These are the two basic types of genetic mutations that cause cancer:

  • Sporadic gene mutations. These are defects in code that are acquired, making them the most common cause of cancer. They are a result of damaged genes occurring during one’s lifetime, and they are not hereditary. Sun exposure, tobacco use, viruses, and age are all examples of environmental factors associated with sporadic mutations. Next-generation sequencing and molecular profiling of the tumor are both tests that identify sporadic gene mutations of the tumor.
  • Inherited gene mutations. These changes in the code are passed from parent to child, and they are less common than sporadic mutations. Inherited gene mutations make up only 5%-10% of all cancer cases.

Although complex, cancer is common. Therefore, it’s no surprise that many families have at least a few members who have had cancer. Although it may seem like certain types of cancer “run in the family,” most cancers are not inherited.

Genetic testing is performed to identify inherited gene mutations. 

It is important to note that not all cancers are linked to a specific gene. Scientists are continuing to discover new genes and to examine the effect that genetic changes have on the development of cancer (making it a dynamic area of cancer research).

The results of your individual genomic and/or genetic studies will help your clinicians determine which treatment options are best for your situation. Not only that, but they will help you conduct a more specific internet query.  

Although there are many commonalities within cancer, we now know that there are slight variations within each individual case. For this reason, your doctor will speak in statistics and generalities that are based on both the current data and historical perspective.  

It is important to remember that your journey is your own and, while you may travel a well-worn path, each footfall is uniquely yours. Be wary of comparing your situation to those who may have a “similar” diagnosis. 

The next piece of information to gather involves learning about the treatments available to you. 

What are my treatment options? 

There are 3 main ways cancer is treated: surgery, radiation, and systemic treatment (treatments spread throughout the body). Examples of systemic treatment are chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Your cancer may be eligible for one or all three. Some tumors respond well to radiation while others do not, and the stage of a tumor often dictates whether surgery is an option or not. 

A person’s physical condition, their tumor’s genomic profile, their genetic history, the pathology of their tumor, and many other factors go into crafting an individual’s treatment plan. Therefore, be cautious of how you interpret the stories and information shared by others in internet chat rooms.    

Your physician can recommend trusted websites that are designed to provide educational materials about specific therapies and treatments. 

How do I manage symptoms and side effects of treatment? 

A general search for the answer to this question will yield a vast number of results. Asking your healthcare provider for more specific information regarding a treatment-related side effect will help focus your research.  

For example, a search for “chemotherapy-induced neuropathy” yields 4 million results, while searching “acupuncture for cisplatin-based neuropathy” yields only 71,000.

Is this a trusted resource? 

Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it is true. To help you critically evaluate the information that you find, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who said it? — The author’s name should be easy to find and they should have experience in the subject area they are writing about.  If you can’t find who wrote it, or any information about the author’s experience or background, be wary of the information.
  • When did they say it? Is the information current? — Cancer research is dynamic and has rapidly developed over the last decade. Be sure that the information is not out of date. If a date for the information is not given, be suspicious
  • How did they know? — Is the information based on the research of many or is it simply someone’s personal experience or opinion?   Does the information seem reasonable based on what you know or have read elsewhere? If there are no other sources with the same results or information and it seems too good to be true, it may be.

 

If applying these guidelines to your internet search leaves you even more confused, frustrated, or anxious, contact us for a complimentary call to see how we can help. 

Download a glossary of “cancer terms” to assist you in interpreting the data you find.   

 

Schedule a get-acquainted call 

The first step is a free 15-minute get-acquainted call to see how I can help. The next step is to schedule our first 90 minute consultation  , where I will personalize a roadmap for you and your family, and determine next steps.