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Cancer clinic brings complete health-care team to the patient

Ann Mentes was first diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, and after surgery she had to negotiate her way through the maze of after-care.

She was diagnosed again recently, and underwent surgery. Afterward, the rest of the professional people who will provide her care came for a series of meetings with her during a single visit. This is all part of LDS Hospital's new breast cancer clinic.

The center represents a "new model for care that we're looking at adopting" with other cancers, including prostate and colorectal cancers, said Dianne Kane, director for integrated oncology services who is a registered nurse.

"What sets it apart is the idea when a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, she has to go out and seek all the different providers. We bring all the providers together in one clinic at one time. In one visit, the patient will see a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, surgeon, a nurse practitioner, then ancillary support staff, such as a lymphedema therapist, a social worker, a genetics counselor, if appropriate. It's whatever is going to be needed," Kane said.

Such an approach to cancer gives treatment planning a big boost, Kane and Mentes agree. A patient will "leave with a full understanding of the cancer — a lot of education is done — and a treatment plan. It will be relatively clear what's going to happen to them over X amount of months," Kane said.

The goal is to fill a gap in services that health care providers have seen in the continuum of care, hospital officials say.

Once the diagnosis is made, "it's kind of up to them to coordinate, to go from one provider to another, learning a piece at a time."

The approach, Kane said, helps the patient make decisions with the big picture in mind. "This better enables the patient to participate in planning of their care instead of being shuffled along."

"When you hear the diagnosis cancer, you're absolutely panicked," said Mentes, a semi-retired elementary school teacher (she still substitutes when teachers are absent) "and the second go-round, you're even more panicked."

When she was first diagnosed she had no idea what questions to ask. Experience has filled in some of those blanks, she said. But she believes first-time cancer patients won't need as much background if all their experts are right there to explain the bits and pieces of care and what's likely to happen, she said. "Knowledge is power and the more you know, the better you feel about the situation."

Each breast cancer patient is being assigned a registered nurse or "nurse navigator" as an advocate to help her through the process. Dr. Brett Parkinson, medical director of breast care services at the hospital, said that starting right after diagnosis, that advocate will be available to the patient, helping her get the social and emotional support she needs, advising her about insurance and financial options and helping her with other considerations, such as whether she should participate in a clinical trial.