Earlier this year, Phyllis Rollins rolled over in her bed and felt what she thought was a lump in her breast.
“I explored that idea for a little while,” said Rollins, who lives near Charlotte, North Carolina. “Like, ‘What is this? Is this a lump?’ Until I finally decided it was a lump and I needed to get it checked out.”
Rollins’ mammogram and diagnostic film showed that her lump did not have regular borders. She soon found out she had invasive lobular carcinoma – a common form of breast cancer.
“My husband and I went to a clinic near our home where we met with an oncologist, a surgeon and a radiologist,” she said. “We thought we would go there and we’d have all our questions answered and walk away with a plan. But we came away with questions we didn’t even go in with.”
Finding the right fit
After not connecting with that care team, one of Rollins’ yoga students mentioned that Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center had a multidisciplinary cancer clinic where patients can get a second opinion on their diagnosis and treatment plan. Rollins and her husband decided to give it a try.
“From the moment we drove in, even the parking attendant made us feel like we were important – that we were real, that we were people, that we had a name – whether he knew it or not,” Rollins said.
The concept of multidisciplinary cancer care is not unique, but the opportunity for patients to be at the center of the process is a lot less common. These specialty clinics provide an opportunity for patients to meet and have their cases reviewed by a team of physicians who recommend a personalized treatment plan for each patient. The outcomes differentiate the Novant Health multidisciplinary clinic from the programs offered by hospitals across the country.
Rollins met with a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, surgical oncologist, dietitian, social worker, nurse navigator and cancer survivor at the Novant Health multidisciplinary clinic.
“Each one of those people spent real time with us,” Rollins said. “Not just, ‘Oh, we don’t have time to answer your question today, that will be when you come to the office,’ but every question to the extent that we were finally satisfied with our answer.”
Rollins joked that she felt they were going to have to go get their pajamas and spend the night because they spent so much time at the clinic.
“They were just gracious and generous with their time,” Rollins said. “That compassion and willingness to be present with us in the process as it unfolded were incredibly valuable and continue to be.”
Forming a relationship
Rollins’ surgeon, Dr. Peter Turk, is the medical director of the Novant Health multidisciplinary breast cancer clinic.
“We learned before we came that Dr. Turk is considered to be one of the best surgeons in Charlotte,” Rollins said. “Our meeting with him was very professional and he answered all of our questions. We felt like we could trust him and could have a relationship with him that has continued to go on.”
Rollins said being comfortable with her care providers is important to her.
“If you feel they aren’t serious or that they aren’t listening to you, you’re at a loss,” Rollins said. “For your particular needs and your particular situation, having more irons in the fire is a better thing.”
Asking questions and getting answers
Turk noted patients benefit from the multidisciplinary clinic because they meet with many specialists regarding their specific case, leading to greater understanding at the onset of their cancer journey.
“By the time a patient has been diagnosed, they are swamped with information and options,” Turk said. “The multidisciplinary cancer clinic allows the patient a chance to ask questions in a much more relaxed fashion than they otherwise would in a doctor’s office. They are able to get much more information, not just from a surgeon but from a radiation oncologist, a medical oncologist, a dietitian, a genetic counselor and a nurse navigator.”
Turk said Novant Health has been operating the multidisciplinary breast cancer clinic for 17 years. Each week, the physicians see four or five newly diagnosed patients. Additional clinics have been added for urology, gastrointestinal, melanoma and thoracic cancers.
Physicians also benefit from the multidisciplinary clinic. Turk said the clinic provides the opportunity to meet face-to-face to discuss patients with other specialists, instead of reading other physician’s notes or connecting by phone.
“We come together with a better understanding of the best plan tailored for each of our patients,” Turk said.
For Rollins, synchronized care from a group of providers she trusts has made all the difference, she said.