Photographs contain memories and provide opportunities to tell our stories and connect to our feelings. For cancer patients and cancer survivors, these feelings can become part of the healing process. A new photography program at the Cancer Center, “Life Images of Today and Tomorrow,” provides a unique opportunity for patients and families to have portraits taken by a professional photographer and to make new memories in the process.
“Life Images of Today and Tomorrow” is a partnership with the Washtenaw Community College Photography Program that is offered at no cost to patients and their families. Professors and students from WCC provide portrait services in a studio at the Cancer Center. At session’s end, patients receive flash drives for printing, along with informative tools about the meaning of photographs and suggestions for photography creations. The Cancer Center Art Therapy program hosts periodic follow-up workshops for those interested in creating art with the images and sharing stories in a supportive environment.
The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center is the setting for numerous studies to improve quality of life for breast cancer survivors who experience treatment-related conditions like pain, fatigue, memory problems and sleep disturbances. In coming months, this blog will include posts that provide a look into these efforts. The following introduction to this series is adapted from an invited commentary we published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, June 2012, Volume 133, Issue 2, pp 413-416:
Most long-term breast cancer survivors recover fully from treatment. However, a significant number experience chronic symptoms, including pain and fatigue, which negatively impact quality of life. The causes of these symptoms in patients who otherwise remain free from disease recurrence is unclear, especially since all patients typically undergo similar procedures or courses of therapy. So far, clinicians are unable to accurately predict which patients will experience significant or even disabling long-term toxicity.
Someone called the Cancer AnswerLine™ recently with questions about uterine sarcoma and I spend some time talking with her. This is a fairly rare condition which comprises only 2%-5% of all uterine cancers. Since July is Sarcoma Awareness Month, what better time than now to share these notes?
What is uterine sarcoma?
Sarcoma is a term used to describe a whole family of cancers that arise in the body’s connective tissues, which include, fat, muscle, blood vessels, deep skin tissues, Continue reading →
In the early hours of June 2008, Helen Kornick surfed the Web to find help for her daughter Heather, who had recently been diagnosed with adrenal cancer. The 20-year old was originally misdiagnosed and left untreated for a year and a half. Now, the cancer had metastasized and her mother was desperate for information.
On a website where patients, caregivers and medical professionals share information about this devastating disease, Helen posted Heather’s story. Almost immediately, she received an e-mail from Gary Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Endocrine Oncology Program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“He left his phone number and said to call him immediately,” Helen recalls. “It was 6:30 in the morning.”
And so, the scared mom from Lake Zurich, Illinois, picked up the phone and called Dr. Hammer as he drove through the rain in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Through this unlikely connection, Heather began treatment at the Cancer Center the following Tuesday.
Today, Helen Kornick remains profoundly affected by her first exposure to the University of Michigan.
“Dr. Hammer was so passionate about wanting to personally help us walk through this,” she says.
Helen remembers her daughter as a powerful, determined, and organized personality. At Indiana University, Heather took on a double major: Jewish studies and political science. It was after freshman year that some troublesome symptoms sent Heather to her primary doctor. After the results from ultrasound, blood tests and examinations didn’t seem to add up, she was referred to a specialist in reproductive endocrinology. Without performing a physical exam or any further tests, the specialist diagnosed her with polycystic ovarian syndrome/insulin resistance, non-diabetic.
For the next year and a half, Heather was treated for a disease she did not have.
At the end of her junior year, her symptoms worsening, Heather sought a second opinion. Her new endocrinologist took a thorough family history, performed a complete physical exam and ordered multiple tests including the CT scan that found a 14-centimeter tumor on her adrenal gland. The diagnosis: adrenocortical carcinoma that had already metastasized.
Heather’s tumor had compromised one of her kidneys and it had to be removed. Soon after the surgery, the Kornick family drove to Ann Arbor. They met with Dr. Hammer, Frank Worden, M.D., a medical oncologist who specializes in endocrine tumors such as adrenal cancers, and a host of other medical professionals associated with Michigan’s multidisciplinary Cancer Center team.
Heather’s treatment at Michigan, which included stereotactic targeted radiation, IV and oral chemotherapy, and a great deal of support and encouragement, gave her five years of life.
Heather graduated from college and for a while, despite many health challenges, she lived independently. She worked as a youth advisor and teacher, had a cat and enjoyed entertaining. She also traveled with family and friends, including two trips to Disney World and three to Las Vegas where she loved roulette – donating her winnings to cancer research through the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life program.
In fall 2012, Heather’s medical team – doctors in Illinois and Michigan, once strangers, now united in her care – told her there were no more options for treatment. They could only treat the symptoms and not the disease.
Heather Kornick passed away on April 3, 2013, just three days after the family returned home from a trip to Las Vegas.
In September 2013, Philip and Helen Kornick returned to Ann Arbor to meet with Hammer and Worden and talk about creating a powerful legacy in Heather’s name.
Hammer, who is outspoken about the need for physicians to remain engaged with their patients in regards to their experience with illness, says he will never forget Heather Kornick or her family.
“Helen and Phil Kornick are some of the fiercest advocates I’ve had the privilege to know,” he says. “Their love for their daughter drove them to push us hard to learn more and treat Heather with new regimens. Their efforts helped give Heather five additional years of life. And in their work with us, they made me a better doctor; I’m forever grateful for that.”
Take the next step:
Read more about Heather Rose Kornick and the research fund in her name.
Subscribe to mCancerNews, the quarterly e-newsletter published by the UMHS Office of Medical Development and Alumni Relations.
Giving to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center helps further our mission to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. You can have an immediate impact by using our online form to make a gift today. Or visit www.mcancer.org/giving to learn more.
The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.
When recovering cancer patients want improved everyday function, reduction in fatigue levels or help controlling the side effects of lymphedema, a clinical exercise physiologist can help. mCancerPartner recently discussed the role of exercise physiologists in patient recovery with Chrissy Parker, a certified exercise physiologist on staff at the University of Michigan Health System.
When Peter Rich was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer at age 59, he asked a tough question for one very distinct reason.
“I said, ‘Doc, am I going to die from this?’ When she said yes, I asked how long. I want to talk in terms of that so I can prove you wrong,” Rich says.
He has. Despite the 30-month average survival time for metastatic prostate cancer, he’s now been living with cancer for six years.
Rich has been through a number of different treatments – radiation, chemotherapy, abiraterone, PARP inhibitor, and numerous clinical trials, all under the care of Kathleen Cooney, M.D., his oncologist at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. He currently takes Xtandi (enzalutamide), which is designed to interfere with the hormone androgen. It’s four pills a day, and it makes him tired so he takes two naps each day.