By Dan Yount
The Cincinnati Herald
In 2022, more than 1.9 million Americans are projected to receive a cancer diagnosis and more than 600 thousand Americans will lose their lives to this awful disease. “Around 45 percent of all men and 35 percent of all women will develop some sort of cancer in their lifetime,” says Dr. Bill Barrett, medical director of UC Health’s Barrett Cancer Center and Co-director of the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center.
“Being diagnosed with cancer is a stunning, life-changing event,” said Sherry Hughes, a former WCPO-Channel 9 meteorologist, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019.
Hughes, who joined the staff at CCA in January, is now the Director of Strategic Community Engagement for the recently formed Cincinnati Cancer Advisors, a second opinion provider that helps cancer patients optimize their cancer treatment plans with a fresh perspective.
In 2018, Cincinnati Cancer Advisors founder Dr. Bill Barrett, a co-chair of Cincinnati Cancer Foundation, had a revolutionary idea focused on making Cincinnati one of the best places in the U.S. to be for those facing the adversary of cancer. In his spare time, he started in a small office in Norwood, where he provided free consultations with patients on Saturdays.
Convinced of the value of these free services, he established CCA in 2020 only months before the COVID pandemic was taking hold in Ohio. Despite the pandemic, CCA provided consultations for 229 patients in 2020 and saw an additional 305 patients in 2021. Consultations this year are expected to exceed 400.
“Cancer is its own pandemic, that unlike COVID, occurs every single year. Last year, CCA saw more than 40 different types of cancer,” said Hughes, who has twice traveled to the Ohio Statehouse to speak in support of House Bill 371, which would provide additional advanced screening for women who have dense breast tissue or those who are at increased risk of breast cancer.
Hughes says her experience following her diagnosis was that of having feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and apprehension. She has had chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, immunotherapy and recently finished an oral medication designed to reduce her odds of recurrence.
“Cancer makes you look at your life differently, about adapting a different structure in your life,” Hughes said. “My cancer led me here to Cincinnati Cancer Advisors to be able to use my personal story to help others. Our organization gives cancer survivors options and cost is never an issue. I found this was not a doom-and-gloom place, but a hopeful place that has a positive effect on patients. We have the passion, and we show we want to make a difference in their lives… we are here for them.”
Steve Abbott, CCA’s Executive Director and an 8+year prostate cancer survivor, initially underwent surgery in 2013 in hopes of curing his cancer. A subsequent recurrence led him to CCA for advice, which is proving vital and effective in managing his continuing care, which now includes radiation and potential clinical trial participation. He says CCA’s mission is to lessen the misery and the mortality that often accompanies a cancer diagnosis by helping improve the patient’s care plan, generally done in cooperation with the patient’s oncologist.
Both Hughes and Abbott say that Cincinnati Cancer Advisors found them and that they wanted to use the stories of their cancer journeys to help others. “Believe us, this is not a club you want to be in, but if you are, you want to do all you can to help others fighting this disease,” Hughes said.
Commonly known as a second opinion care provider, Cincinnati Cancer Advisors, is unique in that its no cost services are provided by a full-time clinical staff rather than being staffed by volunteer physicians with limited time to see patients. The center is in the Riverhills Neuroscience building at 4805 Montgomery Road, Suite 130, next to Paycor’s headquarters in Norwood.
“We believe that great care begins with a great plan,” said Abbott. “One of CCA’s goals is to simplify the complex language that most patients don’t understand. We want them to understand that although cancer treatment does come with serious risks, it doesn’t have to rob them of their life,” Hughes added.
“Second opinions are vital in that they provide reassurance and additional information to the newly diagnosed. If you choose to move forward with a consultation, our team of expert cancer advisors will actively listen to your concerns and carefully study your initial diagnosis,” Abbott explained.
“Then we will design a clearly communicated, comprehensive cancer second opinion, which will include a review of your full history, a complete physical examination, an easy-to-understand list of suggestions. and clinical trial suggestions where appropriate,” Abbott explained.
CCA has grown from two employees in January 2020 to 14 staff members, which now includes medical oncologists, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, and administrative personnel, several of which are cancer survivors.
Abbott added, “We look closely at patient records, and we confer with other experts. We issue an extensive, written report that includes our advice on a best course of treatment. Our process is not a transaction; it’s a relationship.”
He continued, “Some physicians can become defensive about being second guessed, but once they become familiar with the services offered here and our approach, they are almost always receptive.” He adds that his own view on the importance of second opinions was shaped by his father’s advice given to him at a young age during a woodworking lesson, when he said, “measure twice and cut once.”
Abbott continued, “Physicians working with cancer patients are extremely busy and have limited time to spend with each of their patients. Our initial consultation is two hours long and our process leverages connections to our network of experts around the world. We don’t assume a patient’s care, which allows us to remain independent and objective. We want physicians to feel we are complementing their work, not competing with it.”
Patient reviews have been consistently good, with a recent CCA patient saying, “This is a wonderful idea. A much-needed independent patient care advocate and second opinion that provided a needed jumpstart to going forward with my treatment plan. I greatly appreciate your time and expertise.”
As part of its continuing efforts to educate patients, Cincinnati Cancer Advisors also produces a lighthearted but informative weekly video series called the “Medical Minute.” The series features discussions with cancer survivors, thought leaders in the oncology space and patient advocates and covers a full range of cancer-related issues. New episodes premiere each Wednesday at 12 p.m. on Spotify and YouTube.
“Second opinions for cancer treatment nationwide frequently cost $2,000 or more and are often not covered by insurance,” Abbott said. By providing its services free of charge to patients, Cincinnati Cancer Advisors can remove all barriers to care, thanks to the generosity of the Cincinnati Cancer Foundation and its innovative “20/20 Foresight” initiative.
To schedule a no-cost consultation with one of CCA’s oncology experts, please call (513) 731-CARE or visit www.cincinnaticanceradvisors.org.