Barbara C. Unell is the founder of Back in the Swing USA® and co-author of The Back in the Swing Cookbook: Recipes for Eating and Living Well Every Day After Breast Cancer. Ms. Unell wrote this blog post in anticipation of our upcoming town hall meeting, Survivorship 360: Navigating Your Way Through the Re-Designed Breast Cancer Roadmap.
I love the new song, “3 Things,” by Jason Mraz. In fact, I love it so much, that I decided to make it the theme of this blog, using a bit of poetic license to play off of Mraz’s message. He sings about the three things that he does “when his life falls apart.”
His words resonate with me today, as I reflect on this particular moment in time in the history of breast cancer survivorship healthcare, a field in which I have planted seeds, along with hundreds of caring volunteers, dedicated healthcare professionals and generous sponsors, for the past 15 years. I hope that you will take a moment (3 minutes, actually) to sit back, listen to Mraz’s song and be inspired, too.
The song’s lyrics remind me of my “new life” that started in the exhilarating days of 1999, after my treatment for breast cancer, when I was focused on “changing the conversation” between physician and patient. As an author, educator and social entrepreneur who is committed to translating scientific research into practical action, I was determined to move that conversation for consumers of cancer healthcare from the anxiety-filled moments of asking, “Now what?” to the confident steps of receiving a comprehensive, personalized survivorship care plan and follow-up recommendations during and/or after primary treatment ends.
To accomplish that goal, I founded the grassroots nonprofit organization, Back in the Swing USA® in Kansas City, Missouri. Our name is our mission: to protect and improve the health of everyone after a diagnosis of breast cancer. For the past 15 years, we have provided philanthropic support, education and awareness of academic medical research and personalized, evidence-based, multi-disciplinary cancer survivorship medical care at several hospitals throughout the Greater Kansas City Metropolitan area; supportive care organizations; and educational presentations and events locally and throughout the country.
Our charitable grants have made it make possible for people to receive this research-based, groundbreaking survivorship medical care for the first time that will help them get “back in the swing” after a breast cancer diagnosis. This care includes specific services to improve and protect breast cancer survivors’ total health: genetic testing, fertility preservation, bone-health monitoring, cardiac risk-reduction, lymphedema therapy, energy balance, psychosocial support and hormone balance, among others.
One of the significant accomplishments in our organization’s history occurred in 2007, as we helped open what we affectionately call our “test kitchen,” one of the first comprehensive breast cancer survivorship centers in the U.S.— the Breast Cancer Survivorship Center at The University of Kansas Cancer Center in suburban Kansas City. Our multi-disciplinary medical team is on the forefront in the field of breast cancer survivorship care and presents its academic medical research findings at international conferences and healthcare centers around the globe.
Over the past decade, many other healthcare institutions, nonprofit organizations, and medical researchers have been “changing the cancer survivorship conversation” in their own way, as has Back in the Swing USA. Now as a result, survivorship care plans tailored to cancer survivors’ individual needs and follow-up care will be among the standards of care required for hospital cancer programs to receive accreditation by the Commission on Cancer (CoC) of the American College of Surgeons (ACS), beginning January 1, 2015. As I noted in my 2012 book, co-authored with Judith Fertig, The Back in the Swing Cookbook: Recipes for Eating and Living Well Every Day After Breast Cancer, this is a big step forward.
Therefore, this is the moment in time to “design your future bright not by where your life has been” but where you are going, as Mraz sings. May that be the song we, too, sing every day in harmony with our healthcare teams, as personalized, comprehensive cancer survivorship care leads to joyful, healthy living for us all.
Want to meet Barbara Unell and learn more about survivorship care plans and follow-up care? Join us in-person or via webstream for our Tuesday, November 13, town hall meeting at the University of Kansas Cancer Center!