Cancer Symposium: Advances in Multidisciplinary Care

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Brown leaves touching waterWhat does cancer care for the "whole" patient mean?

"For so many years, cancer was just a medical diagnosis. People didn't even think about the impact on the patient," said Libby Caes, a UW Hospital and Clinics chaplain and co-chair of the UW Carbone Cancer Center's upcoming Seventh Annual Symposium: Advances in Multidisciplinary Care.


As cancer treatment has become more effective and care has become more interdisciplinary, survivorship has emerged as the way to look at the bigger picture, Caes said. Survivorship includes medical, social, psychological and spiritual dimensions.


Symposium: October 24, 2008


This year's conference, scheduled for Friday, October 24 at Monona Terrace in Madison, explores "The Human Experience: Focusing on Cancer Psychology, Spirituality and Caregiving." The event is designed for health professionals, caregivers, patients, families and the community at large.


The opening keynote for this year's conference will be Julia Rowland, director of the National Cancer Institute's Office of Cancer Survivorship. She will describe what cancer care for the whole patient means.


Robert Wicks, a national expert on preventing secondary stress and integrating psychology and spirituality into care, will discuss why caregivers need to take care of themselves. Brendan Halpin, who cared for his wife, Kirsten, after she was diagnosed with Stage Four breast cancer and wrote "It Takes a Worried Man" about his experience, will share his own personal caregiving journey.


Tracy Schroepfer, assistant professor in the UW-Madison's School of Social Work and principal investigator for Partners Building Bridges: Reducing Cancer Health Disparities in Wisconsin, will share her work on how culture and experiences with the medical system affect how medically underserved communities understand cancer. Schroepfer works with nine of those communities, including American Indian, African American, Hmong and Latino groups in rural and urban settings.


"We know there are disparities (in medical treatment)," Schroepfer said, adding that while, generally, the incidence of cancer is dropping, it's going up in some of these groups. Schroepfer's community-based participation research asks local leaders and community members to help gather information and craft interventions that are culturally relevant.


Each community has different beliefs about cancer based on culture and circumstances, Schroepfer said.

  • On one reservation, the health clinic doctor knows traditional medicine is important to prepare patients for chemotherapy. He honors the need for that to happen, and, with it, patients are more open to treatment.
  • In an urban African American community, some patients fear cancer surgery because they believe it opens the tumor to air, making it spread and resulting in death. What probably has happened is that uninsured patients don't see a doctor until the cancer has metastasized, so surgery often precedes death.
  • In a Latino community, some women believe mammograms produce cancer. Prevention can be a luxury for uninsured women with no sick leave, Schroepfer said. Women with no insurance, who need to take a day off to go for a mammogram, often forgo the test, so they are likely to wait until they have a lump.

"We all have culture – a lot of us have been raised with the medical model; a lot of people haven't been," she said. Poverty is real in these communities, and parents chose to feed, clothe and house their children before they go to the doctor. Medical care almost becomes a luxury."


Using the data she and community members have collected, Schroepfer will work with the communities to find ways to inform people about cancer and plan interventions focused on priorities chosen by local leaders. The partnership between research and community wisdom will lead to ways to address the lack of information and other issues, leading to better cancer intervention, Schroepfer said.


Date Published: 10/03/2008

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