- by Patricia A. Ganz, MD
Director, UCLA-LIVESTRONG Survivorship Center of Excellence
The LIVESTRONG Survivorship Center of Excellence Network was established in 2005 to advance survivorship care and improve the health and quality of life for post-treatment cancer survivors. The Network is a group of seven comprehensive cancer centers as designated by the National Cancer Institute, offering information, care and services to cancer survivors, their family members and health care providers. Directors at each center will be featured monthly in this series to raise awareness of survivorship and resources at Network sites, the LIVESTRONG Foundation and other venues.
This summer I was privileged to travel on a safari tour in East Africa to observe the great migration of animals along the border of Kenya and Tanzania. We visited an orphanage for rescued baby elephants, abandoned by the death of their mothers, on our second day in Nairobi, Kenya. At the orphanage, caretakers would slowly introduce the elephants to herds in the wild, hoping that over several years they would be accepted into a new family with a new mother and siblings. Life can be fragile in Africa; poachers or other predators harm these large and intelligent mammals.
Moving southwest to Tanzania, we visited the lush forest surrounding Lake Manyara, getting close to monkeys, baboons, elephants, various cats, giraffes and many birds. We learned about how each species of animal or bird lived in relation to others, as well as among themselves. We saw lifelong pairs and more fluid communities of animals caring for each other while facing the threats of predators, poachers living outside of the park and farmers in the neighboring village who become angered when elephants invade their nearby rice paddies.
In the Serengeti, we saw large prides of lions. Mothers, with their multigenerational families, showed their young babies how to hunt, while the males hung out at some distance. Back in Kenya in the Masai Mara, we saw the large herds of wildebeests massing at the edge of the Mara River, ambivalent about making the crossing because of the crocodiles lounging in the river below. Nearby, hidden lions waited for an easy meal. There are over two million wildebeests in this region and only three-quarters survive the migration journey.
What does my travelogue have to do with cancer and survivorship? My relatively short encounter with the daily life of animals in East Africa reminded me about how life during and after cancer treatment is also a struggle for survival against the predator called cancer. Although our patients are not usually spending their entire day looking for food and water, they are dodging the predator and often fending for themselves as they try to find the best quality medical care and psychosocial support during their cancer journey. Family, friends or even a single close confidante can make all the difference in the cancer journey experience, as well as in long-term survival.
Back at home in Los Angeles at the UCLA-LIVESTRONG Survivorship Center of Excellence, my colleagues and I are working hard to foster our mission “to facilitate improvements in the quality of life and quality of care of cancer survivors in the Los Angeles region and wherever they may reside.” Recently, the other directors of the LIVESTRONG Centers of Excellence Network and I planned a large study of adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer survivors.
Our goal is to better understand the impact of cancer on their everyday lives and the challenges they face moving forward after a cancer diagnosis and treatment. This underserved population of cancer survivors is just as much at risk as those young orphaned elephants. With care and attention, and through innovative research, we will be able to chart a better course for future generations of AYA cancer survivors. Those of us working to improve the experience of cancer survivors through research, clinical care and leadership are not unlike those park rangers and caretakers, deflecting threats and helping cancer patients and survivors avoid potential disasters.
The LIVESTRONG Foundation has funded the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA since 2006. Help the LIVESTRONG Foundation help us by participating in a Team LIVESTRONG event. Every mile you run, ride, walk or swim with Team LIVESTRONG will support the Foundation’s free programs and services that help people affected by cancer now. Click here to learn more or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.