Cancer Care: Hope in the San Luis Valley

ALAMOSA — Cancer. No one wants that as a diagnosis. However, with early detection and improvements in treatment, people with cancer are living longer and with a better quality of life.

Sometimes confusion and gaps happen during care leaving the person feeling anxious and hopeless. In an effort to eliminate, or at least reduce, anxiety and hopelessness a team has been created to focus on and discuss the needs of cancer patients in the San Luis Valley (SLV).

In 2015, University of Colorado Denver (UCD) physicians, Dr. Linda Overholser & Dr. Don Nease and psychologist and community research liaison, Dr. Reginaldo Garcia, put together a team of 12 SLV residents in a research project funded by a National Institute of Health grant to the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI) at UCD. Participants were cancer survivors, caregivers, and professionals who work with cancer patients. They were Rose Martinez, Lindsay Blankenship, Carol Cotter, Margaret Frazier, Arlene Harms, Nora Leist, Lisa Pamerleau, Maria Fernandez, Carol Smith, Jack Martz, Dr. Maureen Cooper and Dr. Jim Pruitt.

Through in-person meetings and phone conferences that spanned more than a year, the team discussed the needs of cancer patients in the SLV and how to meet those needs.  The end result is “My San Luis Valley Cancer Companion: Hope for Today.”

The Companion is an information and resource guide with sections for doctor visits, labs, x-ray, resources and other information. The Companion will be tailored to the individual patient.  The Companion will help to improve communication between the patient, caregiver, primary physician and specialists. The Companion is intended to stay with the patient and their caregiver and should help to educate them and serve as a lifeboat as the cancer journey begins and continues. 

The Companion is in its early stages of development and will continue to evolve to meet the needs of cancer patients in the SLV. Next steps include seeking support to increase the availability of the Companion to cancer survivors in the San Luis Valley.

Recently, Dr. Maureen “Penny” Cooper, oncologist at SLV Health, said she wanted cancer patients in the SLV to know that they are receiving “...state of the art treatment, treatment that a patient would receive in Denver or New York.”

The team would like the SLV to know that when it comes to a cancer diagnosis, even though hope may seem too far away at times, hope does exist and that the patient and caregiver are important members of the patient’s medical team.