UPMC CancerCenter Debuts The Wellness Suite

By Christine Tumpson | Photographs by Cayla Zahoran and Michael Fornataro

Dr. Stanley Marks

Dr. Stanley Marks

October is the month to focus on cancer with fundraisers, walks, and special events to raise awareness and funds for ongoing research. Last month, a tremendous opportunity to improve the lives of people with cancer debuted with the opening of The Wellness Suite at UPMC CancerCenter. Integrating conventional cancer care with supervised mind-body therapies, the power of the Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program is transformative for cancer patients, their families, and our entire community. The program, started in October 2013, is led by Hillman Cancer Center medical oncologist Dr. Lanie Francis. The impact of this forward-thinking health care model is already being felt, and will continue to be felt for generations to come.

As chairman of UPMC CancerCenter, Dr. Stanley Marks is the ultimate cancer warrior. Internationally respected, his interest in defeating and preventing the disease is tantamount. The interest has taken on new levels of urgency. In a recent upsurge, the influential doctor is now getting five to 10 emails or texts a day from people he knows asking for help for themselves or loved ones.

That’s too many. Too many people getting the diagnosis. Too many caregivers without support. Too many complicated and confusing treatment options. And too few options that were medically accepted. Patients themselves started researching non-pharmaceutical options for managing symptoms, and the wellness industry has grown. Practices like yoga, massage, aromatherapy, meditation, nutrition, sleep, exercise, and even positive thoughts started coming up in consultations.

Dr. Marks and Dr. Francis have a long-time, 15-year professional relationship that extends to a mentor and friend role. The concept of The Wellness Suite is based on healing through a variety of practices: traditional, integrative, contemporary, and ancient. It was made possible by a gift from the Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation. With its opening, the Hillman Cancer Center comes, once again, to the forefront of the battle against the ravages of one of modern society’s greatest tragedies, a battle that turns a person’s own body against itself. For too long, broken hearts, dreams, and spirits were also left in the wake. But with this new framework, the ability to bring it to fruition and make it a sustainable model, the integration of a holistic approach within a classic medical facility is truly exciting.

“There is clear demand for this for our cancer community and there has been for years. Dr. Francis has been able to understand the complexities of introducing a new program into UPMC CancerCenter with diplomacy and grace. Her ability to advocate for her patients and her program are unmatched. We have supported Dr. Francis every step of the way with conviction and strength. We have funded staff to implement patient care aspects of her program as well as educational events. As her mentor for 15 years, and now a trusted friend and colleague, I will support her continued professional endeavors with pride. From an institutional standpoint, UPMC CancerCenter is committed to the innovative leadership of Dr. Francis and to optimizing our patient care through the expansion of Integrative Oncology.” — Dr. Stanley Marks

Q&A with Dr. Lanie Francis, Program Director, Wellness and Integrative Oncology at UPMC CancerCenter


How did you become interested in the Integrative Oncology concept?
I have always been drawn to the macro rather than the micro. Cancer affects the entire body, not one isolated organ. As I began my oncology practice, I realized that the whole body wasn’t enough. For me to guide patients with cancer, it was crucial to address mind, body, and spirit in a concrete and practical way. After my mom passed away from cancer, I was inspired and energized to be more systematic in my approach. When my mom was sick, I was struck with the moment to moment suffering, isolation, and fear that strikes people with cancer as well as their loved ones. It became clear to me that I had the skills to create a model of care that could be a framework to address these struggles for more of our patients at UPMC. It was as if I suddenly had a battery pack that propelled me forward on this mission.

What about it excites you the most?
Watching patients open up to new experiences and new ways of support, seeing how much a comprehensive approach to symptom management truly changes people’s lives. Also, interacting with providers of these modalities who have so much healing and kindness to offer, seeing the enthusiasm from the UPMC community to embrace change and address patient needs in a holistic way.

You are a collaborative person, who is bringing together different approaches to care. What are some of the collaborations you are currently working on?
1. Nurse Ambassador Program. I’m working with our oncology nurses to train them for integrative therapies at the bedside. They provide aromatherapy and mindful meditation in the chemotherapy and radiation treatment areas.
2. Provider Curriculum. I’m working with our providers to create a sustainable curriculum that will teach them the language of cancer and professionalism.
3. Mindfulness Everywhere. This U.K.-based technology company focuses on modern mindfulness. We’ve created a mobile application for persons with cancer called KARA (thisiskara.com). KARA stands for kindness, awareness, rest, and allowing. The application contains meditations, reflections, and a place to share stories.
4. At UPMC, a sampling of typically siloed departments have collaborated in an unparalleled way to expand this program in a very short time span — marketing, development, human resource, supply chain, operations, and facilities — it’s truly been unparalleled.

How receptive has the community at large been to this concept?
The community has by-and-large been very receptive. We’ve worked hard to craft a message that is clear and consistent to patients so that there is no confusion about our objectives and goals. We’ve taken care to create a program that anticipates and redirects concerns that the conventional medical establishment has expressed in the past. We value safety, supervision, and communication above all. We address major burdens of cost and convenience that have de-railed the most well-intentioned supportive care programs in the past. We constantly back up to see the big picture — which is care of the mind, body, and spirit — happening now and happening with ease. Finding a common language is key.

What are your visions for the future?
A greater acceptance of a patient-centered model of care that views a doctor as a guide and a collaborator; a stronger emphasis on patient accountability and personal responsibility in health care; and patients working to be self-aware, intuitive, and connected to their community and loved ones. I believe this leads to self-advocacy, which is key in our health care landscape.

What message would you like to send forth?
On a personal level, believe in your ideas and push for change where you see the need. For our health care system, an understanding that care of the mind, body, and spirit is crucial for value-based care and for a better society in general.

The Wellness Suite, 5115 Centre Ave., Third Floor, Shadyside. 412.864.6722. upmccancercenter.com/IntegrativeOncology.


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