WASHINGTON--Selma Schimmel, a 15-year cancer survivor, brought a message to an international audience that most of them probably never expected to hear from a radio talk-show host. She urged oncology pharmacists to launch an aggressive outreach program to let cancer patients know that pharmacists can and do answer patients questions about chemotherapy and its side effects.
"The doctor doesnt always have time to talk to patients, especially now in the era of managed care," she said in delivering the keynote address at the Sixth International Symposium on Oncology Pharmacy Practice (ISOPP).
"Even when youre terribly sick, you dont think of the role your pharmacist plays," she added. "It never dawned on me that I could have called a pharmacist to find out what was happening to me with my cancer treatments."
Ms. Schimmel was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28, and has worked with cancer survivors and organizations ever since. She is chief executive officer of Vital Options, a nonprofit corporation whose activities include producing "The Group Room," a weekly call-in talk show on issues important to cancer patients and survivors that currently airs in 26 cities.
During her keynote talk, she suggested that cancer patients may not even be aware of the existence of oncology pharmacists, and that this lack of knowledge leaves many patients to suffer through adverse side effects without knowing why they are occurring or learning what might be done to reduce their discomfort.
"We have the pharmaceutical organizations, but where is the consumer-oriented pharmacist organization, the 800 number, the pamphlets on side effects, the visibility in doctors offices and cancer support organizations?" she asked.
Website Space Offered
She said that "its not enough to tell me Im going to experience nausea and vomiting. I want to know why, because if I know what is happening to my body, I can begin to deal with it. Its the unknown that we cant handle because it makes us feel out of control."
Ms. Schimmel offered to provide space on her organizations website (www.vitaloptions.org) so that oncology pharmacists could begin to reach out to patients around the globe. "We could have a section on our website that says, click here if you want to ask the pharmacist a question," she said. A week after her address, Ms. Schimmel told Oncol-ogy News International that talks were underway with ISOPP members to open her website to them.