Oncology Primary Care Clinic: Supportive Services for Cancer Survivors
In the U.S., 70 percent of people living with cancer have a second chronic medical condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Paying close attention to these conditions has become vitally important, as around half of survivors treated for cancers like breast, prostate, endometrial and thyroid are more likely to pass away from heart disease rather than their cancer.
Clinical studies show cancer survivors benefit from coordination of care between cancer specialists and primary care providers (PCPs). However, a large percentage of cancer patients do not have PCPs or feel their PCPs do not have sufficient training in the long-term effects of cancer treatment.
Region’s First Hospital-Based Oncology Primary Care Clinic
UC Cancer Center (UCCC) opened the region’s first hospital-based Oncology Primary Care Clinic in November 2019. The clinic delivers primary care services specifically targeted to the needs of adults with a history of cancer.
The Oncology Primary Care Clinic is staffed by Melissa Erickson, MD, family medicine physician, clinical director of the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center’s Cancer Survivorship Program and cancer survivorship team member at Cincinnati Children’s. Dr. Erickson brings extensive experience in cancer survivorship to the clinic.
“I’ve been the medical director of the survivorship program for a few years. In doing this work, I discovered that so many patients didn’t have an established primary care physician (PCP), and these were patients that had other conditions secondary to their cancer, like high blood pressure, diabetes—chronic illnesses that needed to be treated,” said Dr. Erickson.
“Sometimes they’ve never had a PCP; sometimes after having gone through all their cancer treatments they may have put their everyday wellness on the back burner.”
Dr. Erickson seized the opportunity to establish a hospital-based oncology primary care clinic embedded within the UC Cancer Center—bringing services directly to the patients. UCCC treats 2,000 new cancer patients annually.
Bobby’s Cancer Journey
Bobby Rogers is a 61-year-old two-time cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in January 2019 and had a colectomy procedure to remove part of his colon. In January 2020, Bobby found out he had prostate cancer and underwent a robotic prostatectomy to remove part of the prostate.
“I got through the first cancer diagnosis and then got hit with a second cancer — maybe some people would’ve given up; I wouldn’t give up,” Bobby said.
Both procedures were performed at UC Health, and throughout his cancer care it became apparent that Bobby didn’t have a primary care physician (PCP).
At every appointment, Bobby was accompanied by one or two of his friends — Dennis and Helen Sullivan — whom he met at OTR’s Community Church about five years ago. Upon hearing about Bobby’s cancer diagnosis, the Sullivans offered to take Bobby to his appointments and provide an extra set of ears as he navigated the healthcare system.
“I don’t have many friends or family to rely on, so I really needed Dennis and his wife, Helen, who understand medical terminology,” said Bobby.
“You don’t meet a lot of people who will go through all that without expecting anything in return — I give them all my blessings.”
Dennis Sullivan is quick to note that he isn’t a medical professional or a credentialed patient advocate. “Helen and I care, and we always say that when you go to the doctor for something important there should be at least two sets of ears at that appointment. The patient might be nervous, feeling overwhelmed, and might not listen closely or clearly because they’re processing intense emotions,” Dennis said.
Life After Cancer: Cancer Survivor Services
After surviving both cancer diagnoses, Bobby had some gastrointestinal symptoms and was concerned that it could be a sign of something serious.
He wasn’t sure which provider he should contact — he had a urologist, a GI physician, and specialists in oncology.