Champion bicyclist Lance Armstrong, whose yellow bracelet has become a cultural icon, may be Earth’s most famous cancer survivor. Along with millions of others, Jeff Keith, survivor of a childhood bout with the disease that claimed much of his right leg, credits Armstrong with “elevating survivorship” and raising public awareness of survivors’ special needs.
So it seems fitting that Keith, of Fairfield, Conn., and 200 others climbed onto the saddles of their bikes on a Sunday morning in August to start the first Connecticut Challenge (see “Out & About”), an annual event Keith has launched with friend John Ragland Jr. to raise funds for a cancer survivorship clinic at the Yale Cancer Center (YCC).
With chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, more people beat cancer than ever before, but long-term physical and psychological consequences of the disease, such as heart problems, decreased fertility and cancer recurrence, are often overlooked.
“Survivorship is almost a ‘black box,’” Keith says. “Not enough attention has been focused on it, but it’s as important as basic care and research because there are 10 million survivors walking around in the United States.”
Survivorship is a “silent need,” agrees Nina Kadan-Lottick, M.D., medical director of Yale’s HERO’s Clinic, a program for childhood cancer survivors funded by the Tommy Fund for Childhood Cancer. “The vast majority of survivors do not even recognize that they have unique health needs or psychosocial needs, because when their therapy was ended it was at a time when we didn’t plan for the future,” Kadan-Lottick says. “They were told, ‘You’re done.’”
The YCC has taken a major step toward an adult cancer survivorship program to parallel Kadan-Lottick’s with the recent recruitment of Kenneth D. Miller, M.D., an oncologist with special interest and expertise in this broad subject.
With Keith and Ragland’s help, Kadan-Lottick and Miller hope to combine forces to create the first center in Connecticut for survivors of all cancers, including adult cancers, a model of care that would be one of the first of its kind in the nation.
Richard L. Edelson, M.D., director of the YCC, rode 50 miles in the Challenge, which netted $250,000 for the proposed clinic. The ride was a “tremendously invigorating and inspiring experience, for an extraordinarily important purpose,” he says. “The Yale Cancer Center is privileged to join hands with the Connecticut Challenge in our joint development of a cancer survivorship program that provides the very best possible care for survivors.”