National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
August 7, 2012 • Volume 9 / Number 16

Community Update

Bringing Science to Cancer Survivors: Workshop Series Reaches a Milestone

Survivorship series icon

The Cancer Survivorship Series, "Living With, Through, and Beyond Cancer," recently concluded its 10th year, with record numbers of attendees participating in the teleconferences. For the past decade, the free workshop series has offered cancer survivors, their friends and families, and health care professionals practical information to help them cope with concerns and issues that arise after treatment ends.

More than 10,000 people participated in this year's series of four workshops, reported workshop co-moderator Dr. Carolyn Messner, director of Education and Training at CancerCare. Each hour-long session drew more than 3,000 callers.

Conceptual image of medical information by telephone

"I love listening to the calls," wrote one survivor in a workshop evaluation. "I feel as though the expert presenters—and the other survivors asking them questions—are speaking directly to me about issues that affect my life."

Another participant, who took part in a previous year's workshop on fatigue and methods for addressing sleep problems, commented, "I finally tried some of those mind-body techniques and they worked! They help me sleep better!"

NCI, along with the Lance Armstrong Foundation (now LIVESTRONG), originally joined CancerCare in establishing the survivorship series because "it allows us to feature some more cutting-edge science on a platform that has enormous reach," explained Dr. Julia Rowland, director of NCI's Office of Cancer Survivorship. "What it does brilliantly is not only features the science but also allows the scientific community to interpret their findings for a lay audience and thereby make them much more accessible to the public."

The teleconference workshops have drawn participants from more than two dozen countries. "I think the global reach of this program is really impressive and reflects the growing demand for this type of information around the world," Dr. Rowland continued.

The current planning committee is drawn from the three founding organizations, as well as from the other partner organizations: the American Cancer Society, the Intercultural Cancer Council, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, and the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.

Each workshop kicks off with a 30-minute presentation, starting with the perspective of a cancer survivor or caregiver, Dr. Messner said. For example, in this year's workshop on "Recapturing Joy and Finding Meaning," Dr. Keith Bellizzi, a 15-year cancer survivor who is also a researcher in survivorship studies at the University of Connecticut, contributed the survivor's perspective. "I shared my experience with cancer and discussed how understanding the meaning of the cancer experience was an important part of the healing process for me," he said.  

The survivor perspective is followed by brief presentations by two content experts who provide the latest evidence-based findings related to the workshop topic.

Discussions sparked by questions from workshop participants make up the remainder of each session. "We can't take everyone's questions, but we do take a fair number," Dr. Messner said. "We don't prescreen the questions, which is another thing that is really exciting about the program. We have to be prepared and think ahead of time what questions might be coming in and how we want to handle them."

For the rare questions that cannot be answered quickly by one of the workshop experts, callers are referred to the toll-free number for CancerCare (1-800-813-4673) or to the NCI Cancer Information Service (1-800-4-CANCER).

Suggestions and evaluations provided by attendees help guide the topics chosen for the next year's workshops, Dr. Messner noted. A few years ago, the series added a workshop to allow one workshop each year to be devoted to issues faced by caregivers. 

Topics and speakers for the 2013 Cancer Survivorship Series will be announced in December.

Bill Robinson