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Episode #1 - Pilot

Sherry Hughes:

Hello, everyone. I'm Sherry Hughes, and I'm the guest host for Cincinnati Cancer Advisors' first ever podcast here in CCA's new larger space. Here today is Steve Abbott. He's the executive director of Cincinnati Cancer Advisors. Welcome, Steve.


Steve Abbott:

Thank you, Sherry.


Sherry Hughes:

Tell me a little bit about Cincinnati Cancer Advisors.


Steve Abbott:

Yeah, no. Thanks for the question. So Cincinnati Cancer Advisors has been a legal entity, well, has been around since 2018, so that would've been when Dr. Bill Barrett, who is the co-director of the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, came up with the concept of beginning to provide free oncology second opinions to cancer patients in the greater Cincinnati area.


Steve Abbott:

He had seen several cases where, or many, many cases over the years, where he felt like either maybe an initial diagnosis warranted more research, or maybe he thought it was even flat out wrong. And so he saw cases that went both ways, maybe treatment that wasn't necessary, or cases where maybe treatment wasn't being recommended and he thought it was desperately needed. And so he came up with this concept of: What if we started a service that was much more comprehensive, that was designed to slow everything down a little bit, because cancer is a bit of a quick journey in the beginning, and provide that as an extra value added service to patients? And so he started doing that in 2019 on his own time, free of charge. And we began with our own oncology team at the beginning of 2020.


Sherry Hughes:

Wow. So you say CCA's been around for?


Steve Abbott:

So, really, I mean as a fully functioning entity, since the beginning of 2020.


Sherry Hughes:

Very good. And you say that the service is free, and that's incredible. How do you do this? How does CCA do this free of charge?


Steve Abbott:

Yeah, thanks. It really is thing. It's funny, we try to not over emphasize the free part, but it's an important thing. And so we provide this all free of charge. It's based strictly on the generosity of private donors and private foundations for the most part. And so we also have patients that come through that are grateful that make donations. But it's mostly funded not so much by corporations directly, but by foundations. So what you really need to find are those people with which that concept resonates. And what we're trying to do is just take the insurance struggle out of the process. We just don't want people having to be bothered by it. We want people to be able to come in, have a conversation, feel better when they leave, get the help they need, and not worry about the insurance bill.


Sherry Hughes:

Yeah, yeah. So how many people would you say CCA can see in a given year? Or how many have you seen so far?


Steve Abbott:

Last year in 2020, and if you think about the amount of time we spend per patients, which averages about eight hours per patient, and we had a small team to begin 2020, we saw 229 patients.


Sherry Hughes:

Wow.


Steve Abbott:

And that was with COVID. And so this year, we're on track to see probably about 325, which was-


Sherry Hughes:

That's a lot of patients.


Steve Abbott:

About a 40% increase. And our ultimate goal would be to see probably somewhere between 1500 and 2000 patients a year, which is partly why we're in this new bigger space.


Sherry Hughes:

Yeah, that's right. And you have, Steve, a very unique, a very unique connection to CCA, a very interesting story.


Steve Abbott:

Yeah. Thank you. I know it really is a unique story. And so in June 2020, I came out here at the request of my treating physician, which is Dr. Bill Barrett. He's been my oncologist for about eight years now. And I was having rapid, sizeable increases in my PSA, so I'm an eight year prostate cancer survivor. And we were trying to get a handle on why my PSA was going up like it was. And the conventional techniques were just not yielding any answers that made any sense. I was on drugs to control things and I was doing everything, we were doing everything we were supposed to be doing, but the numbers just kept going up.


Steve Abbott:

So he asked me to come out and see Dr. Phil Leming at Cincinnati Cancer Advisors. And Phil dug into it and made some phone calls around to some of the people he knows around the country, around the world, and came up with a clinical trial that was in Michigan. It was a new imaging technique, a new PET scan that has been in use in Europe for a while, not in the US. But this new PET scan was rumored at least to be able to find prostate cancer cells with good precision, which it did in my case. And so last November, they found three different cancerous lesions.


Sherry Hughes:

Wow.


Steve Abbott:

That we treated with radiation in December. And my PSA is down markedly since then.


Sherry Hughes:

And all because of that extra.


Steve Abbott:

Extra time, yeah.


Sherry Hughes:

That extra time there.


Steve Abbott:

And Dr. Barrett is a perfect example of an inquisitive oncologist that it's like he wanted extra help, which is what we provide. We fancy ourselves on providing complementary care. And so the collaboration with Dr. Leming is what yielded a dramatic result in my case.


Sherry Hughes:

And how are you doing now?


Steve Abbott:

Doing great. Great great.


Sherry Hughes:

You look great.


Steve Abbott:

Thank you. It's still eating a little bit too much probably, and maybe we have one extra glass of wine per night. But I feel really, really good.


Sherry Hughes:

That's great. I'm glad to hear that things are working out and that you're getting the care that you need.


Steve Abbott:

Thank you. And I'm not the only one here that probably we should talk to a cancer journey about. So you've got your own little, not little, but you've got your own journey that we could talk about as well.


Sherry Hughes:

Yeah. Now, wait a minute, I'm supposed to be the guest host. I'm supposed to be the guest host.


Steve Abbott:

I know. We put people to work here.


Sherry Hughes:

You're going to interview me now. Right?


Steve Abbott:

We put people to work here. So it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.


Sherry Hughes:

Yes, yes.


Steve Abbott:

And I think it's, be a nice time to maybe hear a little bit more about what you've gone through and hear some of your words as well.


Sherry Hughes:

Well, I am a two year survivor now. I was actually diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in 2019. And my cancer was found, I say by the grace of God because there was nothing wrong with me. But I did have a family history, my mom had passed from breast cancer when she was just in her 40s and I was a young girl. And so I've been getting mammograms since my 20s and being very, very vigilant with my health.


Sherry Hughes:

A few years back, I was talking to my OB/GYN, Dr. Amy Thompson, and we were just talking about what other types of treatments and tests and things of that nature were out there because I wanted to get other things. I had been getting the 3D mammogram, which was great. But I knew that there were probably other technology and things that could help. And she mentioned a few things, but one of the things that I heard was the breast MRI. So I said, "I would like to get that."


Sherry Hughes:

However, just getting a breast MRI sometimes is very difficult for some women because of the cost of insurance. And sometimes insurance carriers don't cover that. But I was able to get it after some pushing, and I wanted it to just be another baseline to give me a look at perhaps what else was going on inside of me that could help us in the event that anything were to happen. And to my surprise, I got that call back after getting that.


Steve Abbott:

Oh, boy.


Sherry Hughes:

Yeah. Nothing was wrong either. I was very healthy. There was no lump. There was no pain. There was nothing. And so in fact, all of my mammograms had always come back clean, and I'd had the 3D. But I got this breast MRI and it detected a very small cancer that was very aggressive and it was malignant, of course. And so I heard those words, which are very scary, that you have breast cancer. And so I became a part of the one in eight that are diagnosed in their lifetime, women.


Sherry Hughes:

And so I had to go through, they got me started really quickly on chemotherapy, aggressive rounds there, surgery, as well as radiology, and even immunotherapy. And I'm so grateful that after the chemotherapy, I had a complete pathological response to the chemo.


Steve Abbott:

Nice.


Sherry Hughes:

It was aggressive, but they couldn't find any tumor and they couldn't find any cancer at this point and time. And that was great, but I still had to get surgery to take out lymph nodes and to check the tissue and all of that. And so I've been on the road to recovery and I've been doing really well. And I tell everyone I'm a survivor. I'm a survivor now, and I want to continue to survive. So in order to do that, you have to continue to do all the things that will keep you healthy. And you're constantly being surveilled, so to say, you're under surveillance and you're going through different testing. But so far I'm grateful that I'm still here. And being that it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I just want every woman out there to make sure that they're doing their breast self exams and getting those mammograms because that's still the gold standard, even though the breast MRI detected my cancer.


Steve Abbott:

Yeah, no, that's great. It's funny, as I sit here nodding my head acting like a man that knows what you're talking about, I only do because you and Diana, my wife, will hit it off really well because she's been down a very, very similar path. So a lot of those terms ring true. She's also invasive ductal carcinoma. And she is I guess about six and a half or seven years coming up on. So she was diagnosed 16 months after I was diagnosed, so it's something I can really relate to.


Steve Abbott:

And the other thing too is that there's the treatment themselves that are so beneficial. And we've come so far with that. We've still got a long, long way to go. But there's other things like what we provide at Cincinnati Cancer Advisors, just even help with the financial navigation, the insurance navigation, which is so frustrating, and it comes at such a terrible time in people's life to have to fight with insurance companies, so we try to help people with that as well. But what are some other kind of resources or things that you rely on in addition to the treatment that are so key that people should seek out while they're going through this?


Sherry Hughes:

First of all, a support network. You need a support network of family, friends, or even the medical community. That's something you should seek out. You should seek out more information about your condition, about your health, and how you're to continue to move forward. I've found that for me, I had all those things, but unfortunately, there are many women that go through breast cancer and they don't have a large network of family and friends. That is so critical in being positive and also having the information in front of you to know that there are things out there. Like you said, CCA, they not only provide the second opinion, but you're able to do research beyond what the person is diagnosed with and find other treatments or perhaps find other solutions that may be out there.


Steve Abbott:

Yeah. And as I sit here, there's so much about what you say and your level of passion about things that remind me in a lot of ways of myself. So what do you think it is about cancer that changes people in the way that it does?


Sherry Hughes:

Well, first of all, it brings you up close and personal with your mortality. Every time someone hears, "You have cancer," or they say, "Someone has been diagnosed," you immediately think that's a death sentence, but it isn't. It isn't that. It is an illness. It is a disease. And it is treatable in so many instances, especially when cancers are detected and found early. So I think what it did for me is it made me stop and think about my life and my life's mission, and what I'm passionate about, and how I want to move forward with my life.


Sherry Hughes:

It made me stop and think about what I have to do to stay healthy. So really, and I'm sure you can attest to this, it really opens your eyes and it kind of almost brings you ... It gives you a second birth, if you will.


Steve Abbott:

Absolutely.


Sherry Hughes:

So that you are making sure that you're taking care of the people that you love, that you're spending time with the people that you love, that you're doing things that you've always wanted to do, and that you're staying vigilant.


Steve Abbott:

Yeah. No, agreed. One of the things that I've gotten into, it was against my better sensibilities because at the time, I didn't feel terribly comfortable with doing it, but was lobbying. I'm involved with an organization that does national lobbying for prostate cancer research. And I know that recently, you made a trip to Columbus. It was also a lobbying effort. So tell us a little bit more about what that was all about.


Sherry Hughes:

House Bill 371, thank you so much for asking about that. Yeah. I have joined the cause. There are many women. Michelle Young is an attorney here in town, and she was very instrumental in getting bipartisan support from State Representatives Jean Schmidt and Sedrick Denson on that. And that bill is designed to help women who are at higher risk of breast cancer, and also help women with dense breast tissue to be able to get the extra screening that they need, to get the extra testing that they need, so that you can find these cancers earlier. That's so important because the way things stand now, oftentimes there are women that aren't able to get these testing. And there are women that are being diagnosed even earlier in their 20s and 30s and 40s now.


Sherry Hughes:

It used to be that they say you cannot get a mammogram until you're 40 years old. But with the House Bill 371, if you have that family history, or if you yourself have dense breast tissue, or some other outlying, underlying type issues, it'll help you be able to get the testing that you need. And that's why it's so important because actually, it's going to save lives. And so I've been up there, and I'm going to continue to go and get support for 371 and see if we can't get that passed so that women and men, because men do get breast cancer as well, can get the help that they need so that we can stay alive.


Steve Abbott:

That sounds good. That's awesome, as a matter of fact. I might be leading the witness here because I think you might've touched on this before. I know with my wife, her one thing is self exam. If you had to say, what's your key message? What's your number one thing that you would say to other women?


Sherry Hughes:

Know your body.


Steve Abbott:

Yeah.


Sherry Hughes:

Advocate for yourself. Ask questions. And stay on top of your health. And when you do hear those hard words, don't go to that dark place. Stay in the light. Fight for yourself. Fight for your life, and advocate. Get the help that you need. You have to seek out sometimes. You have to go beyond what your comfort is. And you mentioned once before being able to get out of your comfort zone and get into the zone of advocacy and fighting and trying to be about taking care of your own personal health.


Steve Abbott:

Yep. No, great message. So Sherry, thanks for joining us today. This is the first of ... We're going to kick off another series in November that we're really, really excited about, which is going to be called The CCA Medical Minute. And what we're going to do with that, I say minute, I'll probably be minutes.


Sherry Hughes:

Are you going to have me come back?


Steve Abbott:

Yeah. I'm absolutely going to have you come back.


Sherry Hughes:

I enjoyed this.


Steve Abbott:

And so what we're going to do, the concept behind that is to take complex topics, terms that cancer patients don't really understand, things that get rushed through that deserve more time, and really break those down in a way the people can understand, and try to do those in small bites, little vignettes, maybe three minutes to five minutes, something like that. But really cover those in a language that people can understand because so often, people leave a visit, they don't even understand what they heard. They might be too intimidated to ask a question. They might feel stupid.


Sherry Hughes:

They're overloaded sometimes with a lot of information.


Steve Abbott:

They're overloaded, yeah. So our goal is going to be to, with the benefit of our clinicians and the things that they've heard over the years, by having patients that are actually on staff, is come up with that list of all of those things that leave you scratching your head and really explain those better. So I'd love to have you back in the future to talk about that.


Sherry Hughes:

I'd love to come back. Thank you. Thank you.


Steve Abbott:

Yeah, thank you so much. Thank you so much, Sherry. I really appreciate for coming out today.


Sherry Hughes:

And thank you for having me, and thank you for sharing your personal story and all that's going on, all the great things that are going on at Cincinnati Cancer Advisors.


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