Comprehensive Women’s Cancer Program: Joan Lunden & TriHealth Team Up

Comprehensive Women’s Cancer Program: Joan Lunden & TriHealth Team Up

Healthcare officials know there is no mystery to high quality women’s cancer care. It takes the latest sophisticated technology, highly trained physicians and specialists and a multi-disciplinary network.

"The challenge is making it work, to find the resources that can help us deliver this level of care without putting a burden on a patient, financially or emotionally," says Mark Witte, executive director of the TriHealth Cancer Institute.

TriHealth is meeting that challenge with the development of a comprehensive Women’s Cancer Program at Bethesda North Hospital that will help women facing breast and gynecological diseases navigate from diagnosis to survival. The program structures and targets care for women among physicians, social workers, nutritionists and other services.

A fundraiser for the Women’s Cancer Program will be held April 29 at the Horseshoe Casino as part of the annual Bethesda Lyceum Speakers Series hosted by the Bethesda Foundation, one of TriHealth’s philanthropic arms.

The speaker is Joan Lunden, the former "Good Morning America" host, journalist and author. More significantly, Lunden is currently in active breast cancer treatment. Since her diagnosis last summer, Lunden has shared her battle, chronicling her treatment on her website and reporting on it for the "Today" show. Her public conversation included an October People magazine cover photo taken without her wig. "My going public, allowing People magazine to take that picture, all of this – to say it’s been worthwhile is the understatement of my life," Lunden says on her website. "If my life was defined by what I have been able to do in terms of breast cancer, I would be happy."

Bethesda Foundation president and CEO Andy Swallow hopes Lunden’s appearance will raise at least $125,000 for the Women’s Cancer Program.

"Philanthropy is fuel for new technology, training and additional personnel," says Swallow about the mission of the Bethesda Foundation.

Witte emphasized the Women’s Cancer Program requires investment in a range of different resources, including state-of-the art technologies, staffing and training and capital improvements.

The development of a comprehensive Women’s Cancer Program involves extending what TriHealth has done with breast cancer treatment. It has followed a holistic approach since 2009 when Bethesda North opened its 47,000 square-foot outpatient imaging facility, housing the Mary Jo Cropper Family Center for Breast Care. It was the first in Greater Cincinnati to achieve accreditation by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers.

It has been a pioneering program that physicians say has been a godsend for women.

"It is a new model that works. When patients make a trip to the cancer center, it is a one-stop shop," says Jessica Nicole Guarnaschelli, MD, a radiation oncologist. "The care comes to them, instead of the patient being responsible to seek it out."

"Cancer care today is not just treating a disease, but treating a person. A diagnosis must be dealt with in the context of patients’ lives, their families and their situations." – Mark Witte, executive director of the TriHealth Cancer Institute

Indeed, it wasn’t that long ago that after a patient received a diagnosis, she was presented with a list of providers and told to contact them. Expecting patients to manage their own care when hit with a cancer diagnosis was a poor model. But it was more often than not how things were once done.

At the heart of Bethesda’s breast cancer program is the nurse navigator, who works with the patient from diagnosis to setting up a survivorship care plan.

"We meet with the patients, go over test results, find out about insurance and personal finance and get them the help they need so they can concentrate on their treatment," says Adrienne Ruehl, RN, a certified breast patient navigator. "Our cancer support group will talk with their insurance companies, if needed, or reach out to community resources. We really are a nurse-social worker."

Patients call one number to reach a nurse navigator who can give immediate answers to questions that can range from medication concerns to tips on where to find a wig. 

Dr. Guarnaschilli says recent studies have confirmed what common sense might tell you: "A UCLA study paper found that patients who participate in a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary program have better outcomes and reduced mastectomy rates."

"Cancer care today is not just treating a disease, but treating a person," Witte says. "A diagnosis must be dealt with in the context of patients’ lives, their families and their situations."

Witte also said new standards for accreditation from the American College of Surgeons require a psychosocial distress evaluation that looks at how cancer diagnosis and treatment might be impacted by several factors in a patient’s life, including social and financial conditions, mental health, nutrition and more. "If we are going to measure that, we have to take the next step and be able to do something about those factors," Witte says. "We have to fund the resources that can help us deliver that level of care."

Swallow says many people in the philanthropy world do understand the huge breakthroughs in targeted cancer care and the staffing and training needs of providing a comprehensive care approach.

"Donors are much more savvy and willing to invest in transformational care. Thirty years ago philanthropy in healthcare was mainly support for indigent care. It’s now about, ‘How do we change care?’" Swallow says. "Donors understand the business plan for something like a comprehensive approach to women’s cancer and they can see how giving can make that happen. They get excited about program development." 

The 14th annual Bethesda Lyceum Speakers Series featuring Joan Lunden is at 6 p.m. April 29, at the Horseshoe Casino, Cincinnati. All proceeds benefit the Women’s Cancer Program at Bethesda North Hospital. To register or make a donation, call.513.865.1621 or visit

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