Cancer survivorship grant adds support for more patients

Sanford Fargo oncologist has prompted new programs for families, children, LGBTQ+ patients

Cancer survivorship grant adds support for more patients

Sanford Health and medical oncologist Shelby Terstriep, M.D., were awarded $1.8 million as part of a five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2019. Dr. Terstriep earned the grant because of her work on cancer survivorship care.

Now, three years in, she is seeing results in many different areas.

“When we first got the grant, we did a lot of work with young breast cancer survivors because that’s what it was geared towards,” said Dr. Terstriep. “Several priority areas that these women had included (were) fertility and family planning, support for their children, changing their lifestyle to reduce their risk of cancer recurrence, controlling stress with integrative care modalities and equitable care. The new programming that has been created from this grant were guided by what these women were telling us was missing. With the grant money, we were able to hire and train oncology fertility navigators. So they serve as the bridge between those two specialties.”

Expanding survivorship care

The scope of the grant has grown well beyond that initial group, however. Program coordinators have been hired in each region of Sanford’s service area to keep Sanford connected with patients throughout their survivorship journey.

Sanford has also started offering a program called CLIMB, in which children of cancer patients are provided with tools and support to cope with their loved one’s diagnosis.

Other areas the grant has addressed have also included earlier detection and diagnosis in Native American patients, along with more equitable treatment of LGBTQ+ patients.

Related: LGBTQ+ patients can find high-quality care at Sanford Health

“Part of that health care equity program was really analyzing all the various components of our policies, procedures, intake forms, and correcting as many of those as we possibly can,” said Dr. Terstriep. “The work that we’re doing is really changing the scope of care for the next decade.

“How do we make people feel comfortable getting care? How do we show them that Sanford is a welcoming place and really wants to solve the problems with equity? It really has to be a commitment for the long term. I am so thrilled with how far we’ve come.”

In fact, some of her own patients helped drive Dr. Terstriep to push for change even before she was awarded the grant.

“One of my lesbian patients said she had never told a doctor that she was a lesbian, and she was 50 years old. That just kind of shocked me,” said Dr. Terstriep. “I had another who said, ‘I had to find you from the underground, because I was worried that my oncologist wouldn’t try as hard with me.’ You know, those moments just drive you for change. And I think we’ve changed a lot.”

Beyond the grant

The grant will continue to fund positive changes within Sanford’s cancer survivorship program for two more years, but the lasting legacy of the grant will go far beyond. The current programs have always been supported by more than just the grant money, and in the future, Sanford Health Foundation and the Edith Sanford Initiative gift will keep the programs going long after the grant.

Funding aside, the culture of Sanford Health has already been built around continuing care for cancer survivors.

“The treatment of cancer, the chemotherapy, was just a very small percentage of a person’s life. But then how do I help them for the rest of their life?” said Dr. Terstriep. “Part of the beauty of being an oncologist is that I see (patients) for years. It drove me to survivorship because really that’s how I can affect change for them in their lives.

“What drives me now is progress. Continual progress. I’m not a researcher who will find a cure for cancer. That’s not the type of research I do, but I can sure design programs to help people’s quality of life be better.”

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Posted In Cancer, Cancer Screenings, Cancer Treatments, Fargo, Inclusion at Sanford