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Grant Establishes Gynecologic Cancer Patient Mentor Program

November 11, 2019

A $60,000 grant from the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA) will help launch a novel peer-to-peer mentoring program at The University of Kansas Cancer Center for women diagnosed with gynecologic cancers. The support program, called Woman to Woman, will pair gynecologic cancer patients with trained volunteers who provide one-on-one emotional support and connect patients with cancer support services. Currently, there is no other such program in the region.

Lori Spoozak, MD, MHS, who is board-certified in both gynecologic oncology and in palliative medicine, is the physician champion leading the effort. She is supported by a deep bench of multidisciplinary experts including oncologists, nurses and specialized social workers.

According to Dr. Spoozak, patients face obstacles when it comes to accessing support services, including knowing what is available and being empowered to ask. KU Cancer Center is unique in that it provides a wide variety of resources to support patients undergoing treatment for cancer such as onco-psychology, nutrition and palliative medicine.

“We find this is particularly true in palliative medicine,” Dr. Spoozak said. “It’s a common misconception that palliative care is the same as hospice care. But that’s not the case – palliative care is provided through the course of an illness and includes symptom management and quality of life care.”

Low awareness of such programs is even greater in rural communities, where patients often must drive hundreds of miles to receive their care. KU Cancer Center’s catchment, or service, area encompasses the entire state of Kansas and western Missouri. Nearly three in 10 Kansans live in rural areas. Dr. Spoozak and her team will utilize technologies such as videoconferencing to facilitate peer-to-peer mentoring.

“The value of local mentors empowering patients with information about support services is immeasurable,” said Dineo Khabele, MD, director of KU Cancer Center gynecologic oncology division. “The program has an opportunity to make a tremendous impact not only in our region, but nationally.”

The University of Kansas Cancer Center joins over 40 Woman to Woman programs made possible by grants from OCRA, the largest charity in the world fighting ovarian cancer and supporting women’s health through this unique patient mentorship program. With OCRA’s support, Dr. Spoozak and her team can start to build the infrastructure for this patient-centered program.

“Over time, the program will grow so that every one of our gynecologic cancer patients has the option to partner with a peer who has experienced what they are going through,” Dr. Spoozak said.

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