UF Lung Cancer Center unites experts for patient-focused care
Gary Love had been retired two years when he first noticed the strange, draining feeling in his head. He went to the doctor, thinking it was a sinus infection. It wasn’t.
An MRI revealed a brain tumor, which doctors eventually traced back to a type of lung cancer called adenocarcinoma. The news was shocking for Love and his family, said his daughter, Katie Love Hobbs. He’d never smoked. He didn’t drink. The former sheriff’s deputy had never even been in the hospital before.
Already being treated at Shands at UF for his brain tumor, Love met with the University of Florida Lung Cancer Center team, who devised a plan of attack. Between August and November of 2010, he went through 37 lung radiation treatments, as well as chemotherapy.
“I never thought I would be going through this with my dad,” Hobbs said. “They gave us hope. There was never a doctor we had who did not act like they would do everything they could to help us. They all work together and they are amazing every day.”
No patient ever wants to hear a doctor utter the word “cancer,” and a diagnosis of lung cancer is particularly scary. Lung cancer is responsible for more than one-quarter of all cancer deaths, has a five-year survival rate of about 15 percent — for patients with stage 4 disease survival hovers at just 2 percent — and has few symptoms, often going undetected in the early stages. Quick, efficient care for these patients is a necessity.
Established in July 2010, the UF Lung Cancer Center is a multidisciplinary clinic that brings together all the experts involved in caring for a patient with the disease. Each week, pulmonologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, a social worker and other experts meet in one location to see patients, relieving the need for families to trek from office to office for appointments. And every Friday, these experts gather with a radiologist and pathologist at 7 a.m. in a conference room to discuss patients together. As they look over pathology reports, X-rays and CT scans, they agree on treatment plans, talk over concerns and weigh in on different patients’ conditions.
“For cancer patients in general, the two most important concerns is a lack of communication among doctors and a lack of streamlined process and timeliness,” said Frederic Kaye, M.D., medical director of the Lung Cancer Center. “What the multidisciplinary clinic strives to do, and we think it is doing a good job so far, is giving us direct lines of communication and streamlining the process.”
Michael Jantz, M.D., director of interventional pulmonology, said patients also feel more confident having seen a multidisciplinary team.
“They know their case has been reviewed by multiple disciplines with a cohesive plan formulated amongst us,” he said.
A key part of the team, Kaye said, is nurse-coordinator Andrea Penley, R.N., who works closely with every family, setting their appointments, referring them to resources and giving them a familiar person to call anytime they have questions.
“These people need an informed voice, someone they can call up who can help them,” Penley said. “Patients are starting to expect a higher level of coordination. I think all cancer care is headed in this direction.”
In addition to the clinical care the center provides, researchers are working diligently to find better ways to detect, treat and cure lung cancer, specifically looking into the genetics and molecular basis of tumors and developing better ways to screen at-risk patients for the first signs of lung cancer. In Love’s case, a specific genetic mutation could not be identified, but the lung cancer team hopes more effective and less toxic treatments based on new genetic biomarkers will be available for all patients in the near future.
Almost two years after doctors first found his brain tumor, Gary Love is feeling about 75 percent back to normal. He’s traveling again with his wife and spending time with his family. The couple just got back from a trip to Las Vegas, said their daughter.
“Cancer is never fair. It never happens to someone who deserves it,” Hobbs said. “But I cannot say enough about UF and Shands and what they have done for my dad.”
— April Frawley Birdwell