Life After Diagnosis

There are currently over 15 million cancer survivors alive in the United States today, and 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.  With those statistics, most of us have been affected by cancer in some way.    

A Personal Take on Survivorship: Dr. Vogel’s Story

phil_picture

I saw the devastating effects of cancer firsthand as the primary caregiver to my brother.  Phil was a Gopher baseball player (pitcher) and at the young age of 23 he was diagnosed with an aggressive and inoperable brain tumor.  The treatment was grueling and the prognosis grim.  The chemotherapy and radiation that kept the cancer at bay for a long time also had some serious short- and long-term effects.  He was strong and a fighter but eventually our conversations turned to issues of quality of life versus life expectancy..  Not only did his perspective and goals change, but mine did as well.  I now focus my research efforts on the issues cancer survivors face, starting at time of diagnosis. I hope to bring more attention to maximizing quality of life regardless of the prognosis.

More recently, yet another family member provided inspiration for my research.  My grandmother was diagnosed with advanced stage ovarian cancer a few years ago.  About half-way through chemotherapy she began to have difficulty remembering where she put her keys and would stop mid-sentence and forget what she was talking about.  This was very uncharacteristic for her –she was an independent and smart woman and was very frustrated that she could no longer do her daily crossword puzzles.  When I asked a collague about these symptoms, she said they are somewhat common and can resolve once treatment ends, as they did for my grandmother, or persist for a long time.  While patients frequently describe these symptoms and practitioners are familiar with this phenomenon, the research literature is comparatively sparse.  This led me to open a study (currently enrolling) that looks at women with ovarian cancer to determine risk factors for “chemo brain” in hopes of identifying non-modifiable and potentially modifiable risk factors so high-risk individuals can be identified for intervention.