First Lady Dr. Jill Biden Joins U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and National Leaders at Cancer Survivorship Summit
Sylvester Director Stephen Nimer, M.D., among notable guest speakers.
Breast cancer survivor U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz hosted a dynamic Cancer Survivorship Summit Oct. 16, with first lady Dr. Jill Biden and national, state and regional health leaders, including Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
“Cancer touches nearly all of us, and I have opened my heart to eradicating this disease,” said Wasserman Schultz, who convened the daylong event at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla. “My priorities include improving access to early screenings, as well as addressing the many challenges of survivorship. We need to educate and empower survivors before, during and after treatment.”
More than 500 cancer survivors, caretakers, patient advocates and professionals attended the summit, many wearing pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The event included a resource fair with a Sylvester team and free cancer screenings at Sylvester’s Game Changer and Firefighter Cancer Initiative vans and other mobile units.
Key themes of the summit included the importance of post-treatment research, as well as making equitable clinical and support services available for the 18 million U.S. cancer survivors.
“We want to invest in research for the best quality of life for the nation’s 18 million cancer survivors,” said Douglas R. Lowy, M.D., principal deputy director, National Cancer Institute.
The Goal: Turn Cancer Pain into Purpose
In her keynote talk, Dr. Biden spoke of the widespread pain shared by parents who have lost sons and daughters to cancer.
“There is a sadness in their smiles, reflecting a longing to see a face that has gone forever,” Dr. Biden said, adding that her stepson and President Joe Biden’s son, Beau, died in 2015 from glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor. “Now, we are turning pain into purpose. With the relaunch of the White House Cancer Moonshot, we want to cut cancer deaths in half over the next 24 years. We can’t wait another minute for better treatments, better cures and better care.”
To support cancer survivors, the president worked with federal health officials to extend Medicare payments for patient navigation services, and with the private sector to bring services to more people throughout the country.
“We want to see a world filled with more survivors so that fewer families will know the pain of losing a loved one to this disease,” Dr. Biden said.
Legislation to Improve Cancer and Survivorship Care
One of Wasserman Schultz’s congressional priorities is the passage of the bipartisan Comprehensive Cancer Survivorship Act, which would address gaps in survivorship care and develop standards to improve care quality and meet the navigation needs of cancer survivors and their families.
“This is a bill that would close many of the gaps that make many patients feel lost in the transition to survivorship,” said Wasserman Schultz, a co-sponsor of the bill, adding that survivorship should be a primary component of an individual’s cancer journey, rather than an afterthought.
“Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and first lady Dr. Jill Biden are true champions of survivorship care and research, and it’s a pleasure to work with them in moving their agenda forward,” said Frank J. Penedo, Ph.D., professor of psychology and medicine; associate director for Cancer Survivorship & Translational Behavioral Sciences; director, Cancer Survivorship and Supportive Care; and Sylvester DCC Living Proof Endowed Chair in Cancer Survivorship.
NCI-designated Cancer Center Collaboration
In Florida, Sylvester is working closely with the state’s other two National Cancer Institute-designated centers to address the many challenges of cancer, said Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., Sylvester director; professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology; the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research; and executive dean for research at the Miller School.
He participated in a panel on “Transition to Post-Treatment Care” with Patrick Hwu, M.D., president and CEO, Moffitt Cancer Center; and Jonathan D. Licht, M.D., director, University of Florida Health Cancer Center.
“At Sylvester, our approach to post-treatment starts right at the beginning of the diagnosis,” said Dr. Nimer. “We have programs to engage cancer patients right from the start, including My Wellness Check, where they can report their symptoms or feelings on the computer rather than waiting till they see a doctor. We believe if you get through therapy easier, your post-treatment life will be easier as well.”
Noting Florida’s population diversity, Dr. Nimer emphasized the importance of sharing survivorship data on varied diets, fitness plans, surgical recovery and other topics.
“We need to learn from each other, so we can make lives better for our patients,” he said.
Perspectives on Cancer Survivorship
In the afternoon session, Estelamari Rodriguez, M.D., M.P.H., associate director of community outreach in thoracic oncology at Sylvester, spoke on “Lung Cancer and Survivorship,” and Jessica McIntyre, M.S.N., ARNP, executive director, clinical operations, participated on the “Survive and Thrive: Navigating Survivorship” panel as a leader in the Oncology Nursing Society.
Throughout the day, South Florida cancer survivors told their moving stories on videos and in person. Among them were Martina Navratilova, retired professional tennis champion, and her spouse, Julia Lemigova, a star in Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Miami,” who shared their thoughts on the caregiver experience.
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis R. McDonough outlined the services available to military families, including screening kits, telehealth programs and groundbreaking clinical trials for rural veterans.
Later in the day, former U.S. Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen® and The Promise Fund of Florida, spoke on “Providing Access and The Continuum of Care.”
Reflecting on the summit, Wasserman Schultz said, “We have seen how the survivorship journey can be challenging as well as inequitable. We need to offer education, support and hope to everyone touched by cancer.”