Laura Cannon, PharmD, MPH, is an oncology pharmacist and clinical assistant professor at The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy. She is also courtesy assistant professor in Dell Medical School’s Department of Oncology. Her clinical expertise and personal experience shape her unique perspective as she works to simplify the education process surrounding cancer treatment for patients and students.
What’s the problem you’re trying to solve, and how did you come to recognize it?
When a patient gets diagnosed with cancer, they and their loved ones try to grasp how they will rearrange their life in the short-term while processing the uncertainty of the future. During an intense schedule of follow-up appointments, they learn about their diagnosis, prognosis and plan for treatment, which could include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation — or all three. They leave with handouts and the amount of information they were able to digest.
I was introduced to this problem during my experience as a caregiver for my late husband, who was diagnosed with cancer during my residency training. As a pharmacist with oncology experience, I struggled to understand everything related to his care and medications. If someone with health care training was struggling to juggle all of this, how much more were other people struggling?
When making the transition to hospice with my husband, it became apparent that members of the health care team struggled with the emotions surrounding his decision to pursue hospice. They were hesitant to even mention it to a patient so young. Learning the necessary ways to emotionally cope is vital for health care professionals so patients can feel empowered about their decisions surrounding end-of-life care.
What are you doing to change the way we talk to patients about chemotherapy?
I currently work as an oncology clinical pharmacist in at the Livestrong Cancer Institutes. The CaLM model of care used in the clinic focuses on whole-person care, bringing supportive resources directly to the patient and their loved ones.
I have seen firsthand how impactful this model has been for patients and their families, as they feel they have the necessary support to manage their cancer diagnosis and treatment from the beginning. As a pharmacist, I educate patients directly on their chemotherapy regimen and supportive care, as well as manage adverse effects with the clinical team.
If someone with health care training was struggling to juggle all of this, how much more were other people struggling?
In my clinical practice, it is so encouraging to be a part of a model that allows us to provide the physical, emotional and spiritual support that oncology patients need. In my role as a professor, I identify ways to relate oncology topics to all students, even those who may not be interested in pursuing oncology, focusing on supportive care management or clinical tips. I also offered an elective focusing on coping strategies, empathy and end-of-life care.
The New York Times asks readers to tell their “Tiny Love Stories” in just 100 words. What’s yours?
We all have hard days. I had them during training, during my husband's cancer diagnosis and I still have them. As one of my favorite authors says, “We can do hard things.” Life includes challenges that we aren't meant to go through alone.
A cancer journey. A stressful year of training. A difficult class. Challenges are made easier when you have adequate support. In my work, I feel honored to share the support I've been given with both patients and students alike. Through this I find fulfillment and purpose. Through this I find joy!