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The Cancer Information Program includes, from right, Wendy VerMeulen, B.S.N., R.N., Gloria Cherry, R.N., Teresa Knoop, M.S.N., R.N., Pam Carney, B.S.N., R.N., and Kathelene Young (standing). (photo by Neil Brake)

Calls to Cancer Information Program on rise

BY: DAGNY STUART

6/06/2008 - A growing wave of patients is turning to the Cancer Information Program at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, and they're calling the hotline at (800) 811-8480 searching for answers and treatment options.

“They call as soon as they find out there is an 800 number,” said Teresa Knoop, M.S.N., R.N., the advanced oncology certified clinical nurse specialist who supervises the program. “Most people find it very appealing to call and discover that they can talk to an oncology nurse.”

In 1997, when Knoop launched the Cancer Information Program, she just hoped that the phone would ring. Eleven years later, she and her colleagues field an average of 800 phone calls per month. The office recently added a fourth oncology nurse to handle the load. Together, this team has more than 90 years of oncology nursing experience.

“Patients and their families have a chance to tell their story in an unhurried fashion and they hear a compassionate voice,” said Knoop. “I think it makes the Cancer Center seem a bit more personal and not this big, daunting place called Vanderbilt.”

The Cancer Information Program was the brainchild of several Vanderbilt-Ingram physicians and nurses who realized patients needed a central clearinghouse for information and access to treatment.

“A wife may call and say her husband has lung cancer, liver cancer and bone cancer and what he really has is lung cancer that has spread and they don't understand that,” explained Pam Carney, B.S.N., R.N. “We help clarify what they already know about their cancer and try to match them with the right physician and therapy here.”

That therapy often includes access to one of Vanderbilt-Ingram's many clinical trials.

“There is a misconception that a clinical trial is your last resort,” said Carney. “But here we have a lot of first-line initial treatment trials that may provide access to a drug that is going to be a cutting-edge therapy and this is the only place they can get it in this region.”

The Internet has expanded Vanderbilt-Ingram's footprint and today the nurses routinely field calls from all over the world.

“We get some of those calls when they're still in shock mode but others are gathering information and calling everywhere,” said Wendy VerMeulen, B.S.N., R.N.

Many of those patients want a second opinion, especially since some insurance companies now designate Vanderbilt-Ingram as a center of excellence for cancer.

Despite the growing reach of the information program, these longtime cancer caregivers understand the need for a simple human touch. Administrative assistant Kathelene Young often deals with people who have never driven on an interstate highway and helps those who are lost.

“For whatever reason you just connect with patients and you feel like you have to be there with them, get them through the door with as little hassle as possible,” said Gloria Cherry, R.N. “You help them get treatment started that will make a difference and you feel like you have accomplished something important.”

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