There is a unique cancer community here in Austin. Not only is it overflowing with skills and expertise, but the majority of organizations are run by people who have been personally and profoundly affected by cancer: caregivers, survivors who utilize their experience to make life better for others who are newly diagnosed, parents who struggled to live normal lives as they went through treatment and so many more.
The Cancer Community Provider Town Hall on May 25 marked an important first for the Austin cancer community: it was the first time that cancer support providers convened to focus solely on their programs and services for the community. The Livestrong Cancer Institutes hosted more than 45 organizations and nearly 80 individuals from across Central Texas to share their existing work and discuss gaps in cancer support, with the ultimate goal of determining constructive strategies for how the Institutes will collaborate with the community to improve care.
The event consisted of two parts: a lightning round of rapid, three-minute thesis presentations, and a World Café-style discussion. Conversations in this simple, flexible style are built on the assumptions that: people already possess the wisdom and creativity to confront even the most difficult challenges; the answers we need are available to us; and we are wiser together than we are alone.
Thirteen organizations and institutions rose to the challenge of presenting a thesis of their work in supporting cancer patients, survivors and caregivers in Central Texas, and strategies for integration with the Institutes. The format required speakers to make their points clearly and eliminate non-critical information. As a result, the audience paid more attention to the speakers and gained a broader array of knowledge from the presentations given.
With this infusion of energy, the event continued with a large group dialogue. The room split into groups of eight, and gathered at 10 separate “café” roundtables hosted by a trained facilitator for 10-minute rounds of dialogue. The groups rotated three times, interacting with many different organizations, and responding to three different prompts: “What is essential for patient centered cancer care and support in Central Texas?”; “What solutions can you offer?”; and “If we build it well, what does success look like?”
Throughout the afternoon, it became clear that each of the participating organizations offers valuable services to patients and or loved ones. While there is some duplication of effort — as there is in all communities — providers are committed to collaboration to better streamline services in our community. Many participants expressed interest in meeting on a regular basis. As a result, we are considering how we can support the grassroots energy that is generating and regularly bring this group of passionate organizations together to solve problems collectively.
Institutes Director Gail Eckhardt and her team are now in the process of sifting through tons of data and ideas that emerged from the event to inform the Institutes’ strategic plan and determine a path forward for engaging this awesome community of providers into the Livestrong Cancer Institutes.
Seeing so many valuable organizations converge with a shared vision that is greater than ourselves was a remarkable moment in time: everyone sees the opportunity that exists in building something together from the ground up. We are so much more than a community of practitioners. We are a community of healers and advocates who bring our human capabilities and our practical, everyday experiences to bear, and it is these human experiences that allow us to personally connect with patients and families when they come through our doors.