Meet the Unsung Heroes of Cancer Care

By: People – March 2, 2021

The winners of the 2020 Cancer Community Awards are redefining cancer care.

Providing the best possible cancer care takes a community— of healthcare professionals, researchers, advocacy groups, volunteers, policymakers and healthcare innovators. The Cancer Community Awards, or C2 Awards, sponsored by AstraZeneca and Scientific American Custom Media, celebrate the individuals and organizations that are redefining cancer care. Below, hear what the 2020 C2 Award Winners are doing to make a difference for people living with and affected by cancer.

C2 Catalyst for Precision Medicine Award

Lincoln D. Nadauld, MD, PhD

Vice President & Chief of Precision Health and Academics, Intermountain Healthcare
St. George, Utah

The relationship between a patient and a doctor in oncology is unlike any other relationship. The trust and the appreciation from patient to physician and, likewise, from physician to patient is extraordinary.
Like other cancer care providers, I love helping patients. But there are so many times treatment is ineffective. I asked myself, “Why can’t we do better?” I began to think we’re not matching the right treatments to the right patient, and that led me to found Intermountain Precision Genomics.

With precision medicine, we look at the underlying DNA in a patient’s tumor to guide treatment that is targeted precisely to them. The results are thrilling. I recently saw a patient who was diagnosed with incurable metastatic stomach cancer three years ago. Analyzing the molecular changes in his cancer had led us to try a novel treatment. It worked, and today he has no sign of disease. He’s going to the gym every day, traveling, and enjoying a wonderful retirement with his wife.

Not only are we able to cure people who have never been cured before, precision medicine may actually cost patients less than traditional therapies.

Today, I’m spearheading the implementation of precision medicine across an entire healthcare system for the thousands of new cancer patients that we see each year in our 24 hospitals. We’ve also embarked on an ambitious project, performing whole genomic sequencing on the half-million people under our care. In the future, I foresee a scenario where every single patient will know what cancer risks they inherited, and we’ll be able to help them avoid or prevent the worst forms of those diseases so they can live the healthiest lives possible.

What’s so exciting about the Catalyst Award is that it sheds light on the vast opportunity that is represented by precision medicine.

C2 Catalyst for Care Award

Jill Kincaid

Founder & CEO, Chemo Buddies
Evansville, Indiana

Karen was my older, wiser sister and she was a real go-getter. That was true even during her eight-hour chemotherapy sessions for advanced breast cancer back in 2009. I’d come with her to the weekly treatments and we’d play board games, shop online, and catch up on our families. Karen noticed everything. She’d point to a guy who’d fallen asleep and tell me to fetch him a blanket. If I got up to get her a drink she’d ask, “Anyone else need a refill?”

The nurses were understandably too busy to offer this kind of personal touch, but it really bothered Karen. Before long, we’d written a proposal for Chemo Buddies, a program that would allow volunteers in the treatment room.

Karen passed away in July 2011. I sat on my couch for three weeks moaning and wailing. And then I found my purpose. By January 2012, I’d become the first Chemo Buddies volunteer. Today there are more than 100 volunteers, many of whom are cancer survivors themselves. They share hope and donuts, conversation and support with 250 patients across five local treatment facilities every day. That added up to more than 75,000 patient visits in 2019. During the pandemic we’ve been doing our best to extend the same kind of hospitality through texts, phone calls and virtual meetings.

Chemo Buddies has expanded to include Student Buddies, Beauty Buddies, Chemo Buddy Knitters and more, who offer everything from handmade pillows to free wigs. Next up is Shuttle Buddies, which will provide free transportation for patients.

The Catalyst for Care Award validates the important work we are doing for people with cancer. And I hope it encourages people everywhere to replicate Chemo Buddies. An official chapter will be opening in Tampa soon and we’re eager to share everything we’ve learned. As Karen said, no one should ever have to go through chemo alone.

C2 Catalyst for Change Award

Lynette Bonar, RN

CEO, Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation
Tuba City, Arizona

I grew up in Southern California and began my health career as a medic and licensed practical nurse in the U.S. Army. In 2010 when my parents moved back to the Navajo Nation, which is home to the majority of the Navajo tribal community, I returned to take care of them. I stayed because there’s so much that’s needed here. Some 250,000 people are members of the Navajo Nation, living across parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. About half live under the poverty level and many don’t have utilities or running water.

Cancer care in Tuba City was non-existent. The nearest provider was an hour south and many people didn’t have the resources to make the trip. People were dying because they weren’t getting treatment. As a nurse, that was shocking to me. And as the CEO of Tuba City Regional Health Care, a 73-bed hospital with more than 20 outpatient clinics and four satellite locations, I was determined to make a difference.

In June 2019, we opened our cancer clinic. It’s the first and only comprehensive cancer center on any American Indian Reservation. When patients walk into our clinic, they meet Navajo interpreters who speak their language. We also combine Western treatment with traditional Native American ceremonies, which is an important complementary part of healing for our community.

We’ve seen well over a thousand patients since we opened. That’s allowing us not only to save lives, but to capture data on what cancers are most prevalent in the Navajo Nation, the causes and the best plans for prevention and treatment. There shouldn’t be any reason why cancer care in Tuba City is so inferior to the care 100 miles down the road, or why poverty draws the line between who survives and who succumbs to this disease. With this clinic and this award, that’s changing.

The Catalyst for Change Award is an honor for the Navajo Nation and we’re proud to share it with our amazing staff and governing board.

President’s Award

Richard A. Dean, PhD

Volunteer, Patient & Family Advisory Council, Johns Hopkins Hospital
Baltimore, Maryland

I am down to my bones an engineer. I spent my entire career working at the National Security Agency. Now I teach engineering at Morgan State University. As a volunteer with the Patient & Family Advisory Council at Johns Hopkins Hospital, I’ve applied my skills to helping create a better care experience for cancer patients.

I’d seen firsthand the challenges cancer patients face. My wife Janet and my daughter Samara were diagnosed with ovarian cancer within a year of each other and they both died from the disease. As anyone who experiences cancer discovers, it’s a messy disease with lots of complications. Your white blood count can plunge, you run an extreme fever and when you’re at a really high risk for infection, you sit for hours waiting in an emergency room around a bunch of people that may have the flu or other transmissible illnesses.

When I was invited to help start a Patient & Family Advisory Council at Johns Hopkins’ Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, I eagerly joined. My mission was to launch a dedicated oncology urgent care center to fill the gaps in care. I modeled the kinds of services that would be needed and the flow of patient traffic.

In 2014, the urgent care center opened. It treats about 150 patients a month and the benefits are dramatic. When cancer patients went to the emergency room for care, they were admitted to the hospital 80 percent of the time. Today, when they come to the urgent care center, they’re able to get the services they need faster and more efficiently and the admission rate drops to 30 percent.

My wife and my daughter struggled terribly with ovarian cancer. Being able to make a positive change for other patients has been deeply satisfying to me. Hopefully this award can inspire others in the cancer community who are working to create a brighter future for all patients.

Click here to read in PDF.