From Chaos, Calm: Focus on Cancer Care

For avid marathon runner and UK native Josh Vintner-Jackson, 2020 has been a particularly difficult year: just months after moving to Texas, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. And soon after, what started as a stomach ache revealed a stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis for Vintner-Jackson, aged just 28.

“I was not allowed to leave my apartment due to my weakened immune system,” says Vintner-Jackson, now 31. “My family couldn’t be here because they live abroad. It was not at all what I expected in life. »

After surgery to remove a golf ball-sized tumor, Vintner-Jackson began a regimen of chemotherapy with the Livestrong Cancer Institutes at UT Health Austin, which is part of the clinical practice at Dell Medical School. There, the award-winning institutes CaLM model of care became a crucial part of his life.

Short for “Cancer Life ReiMagined,” CaLM is a team-based approach that prioritizes cancer care for the whole person. An interdisciplinary team provides comprehensive care – from medical treatment and mental health care to other services such as nutritional coaching and genetic counseling – in one place, minimizing logistical stress. And, uniquely, the entire model was co-designed by cancer patients and their families.

The New Yorker describes the approach and others love him at UT Health Austin as “expansive,” at the forefront of a sea change in medical treatment – ​​one where patients’ non-medical needs are recognized and their opinions are central to the journey. of care.

“Cancer has become a chronic disease requiring long-term care, whether it’s months or years,” says S. Gail EckhardtMD, Director of Livestrong Cancer Institutes and President of Dell Med’s Department of Oncology. “Juggling endless appointments between specialists is exhausting and unbearable. CaLM was born out of a desire to minimize the chaos of cancer care and help people reengage with their lives.

For someone like Vintner-Jackson, whose family was unable to visit him during his six months of chemotherapy treatment, the bond with his care team became all the more meaningful. Frequent calls, texts and other touchpoints – often just to check in – made all the difference to his treatment and outlook.

“The way we all work together as a team to review a patient’s case — radiation oncologists, surgeons, pathology, social work, everyone — brings a level of personalization that’s hard to find elsewhere,” says Anna Capasso, MD, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Oncology at Dell Med and Vintner-Jackson physician. “It’s important for us not to act like a person is completely defined by their cancer either – we just want to be good humans and help people get through this in a way that’s right for them.”

Caring for the Caregiver

Leslie Love and her husband, Mark Love, were beginning a new chapter in their lives as empty parents and grandparents before Mark was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

The Loves started seeing the Livestrong Cancer Institutes team – including Capasso – in 2019, making the 10-minute ride from their home to the clinic. The proximity allowed their Austinite daughters to go with him to Mark’s chemotherapy treatments. After Mark’s death in 2020, Leslie fondly recalls the treatment experience.

“The nurses always had a personalized, inspirational note to mark up on the board,” says Leslie. “Dr. Capasso was pulling up his chair right next to us and discussing the next course of action for treatment before walking down the hallway into the infusion room. Even though it was one of the saddest places in your life – because you never think you’re going to be one – it never seemed that way to us.

Throughout treatment, the Loves developed a meaningful relationship with the care team and were able to customize Mark’s care plan based on his life goals, such as scheduling chemotherapy appointments to avoid side effects. difficult as he walked his daughter down the aisle to her wedding. The links were sometimes very personal: “Dr. Capasso comes from an Italian Catholic family and knew that Mark was also Catholic, so she shared with us a pendant and holy water that her mother had collected in Lourdes”, explains Leslie. “The connection they had was really special and that human connection meant the world to me and to him.”

Leslie herself represents an important, but little-recognized part of cancer care: the caregiver. Counseling for her was crucial during the complex and protracted grieving process, which she says began long before Mark passed away.

“We spend all day talking with patients and about them, and it’s an equally important part of our job to talk with caregivers and get their perspective,” says Angela Luna, LCSW, senior social worker at Livestrong Cancer Institutes. Luna developed the psychosocial support program with the management of the institute from the beginning. “It’s not just an extra thing we do, it’s an essential part of the care. Cancer is incredibly isolating for everyone involved.

13.1 miles forward, one step back

When his chemotherapy ended last year, Vintner-Jackson plunged back into his fitness pursuits — but this time, on a mission: In March 2022, Vintner-Jackson ran the Austin Half Marathon and completed his first CrossFit competition for raise over $5,000 for colorectal cancer research.

But his personal journey is not over. Following a test this winter, Vintner-Jackson learned there was lingering tumor DNA in his blood, indicating a high risk of recurrence. Drawing on his research expertise and network, Capasso recommended him for a clinical trial near treatment for patients facing this reality.

“If anyone has to go through what I went through, I hope they will with a team like mine,” Vintner-Jackson said. “Even outside of the duty of care, there was a personal connection and level of care that I would want for a loved one in my situation. I can’t be too stressed about things that are out of my control, but I can work to help others receive that level of care.

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