Volunteer opportunity: improving the patient experience

Are you willing to dedicate some time to helping the Upstate Cancer Center?

A group that advocates for patients is looking for 10 to 12 additional adult members who are current or former patients, family members, caregivers or Upstate staffers.

The Patient and Family Advisory Committee works to improve patients’ experiences in everything from parking and transportation to programs, signage and support groups.

The group has about a half dozen current members. In its earlier, larger form, the group gave suggestions about the creation of the Cancer Center, which opened in 2014, says Matthew Capogreco, program and events coordinator for the center.

Those interested in joining should be willing to attend monthly or quarterly committee meetings and do subcommittee work, such as research.

“Compassion, empowerment, knowledge, collaboration and motivation are what is needed for the work,” Capogreco says, echoing the group’s mission statement. “It’s about improving the patient experience and complementing what’s already here.”

Email Capogreco at capogrem@upstate.edu or call him at 315-464-3605 to volunteer.

Layout 1This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.


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What you think you know about the importance of touch is probably incorrect




As someone who has spent years caring for cancer patients, Upstate nurse practitioner Katherine “Kitty” Leonard figured that most chemotherapy patients would appreciate a gentle touch during treatment and fear being touched during invasive procedures, such as inserting IVs.

Leonard, a former massage therapist, has a longstanding interest in touch. She found that what mattered more than touch to patients was whether they felt they were treated like whole human beings.

Leonard’s research into how chemotherapy patients regard being touched was published recently in the journal Oncology Nursing Forum.

She designed the research project while studying to become a nurse practitioner with the help of Melanie Kalman, PhD, a professor in Upstate’s College of Nursing. Leonard’s conclusions are based on her interviews with 11 chemotherapy patients, at Upstate and elsewhere.

Patients quickly perceive whether health care providers approach them as a whole person or just as a disease, says Kalman. She says not much research has been done in finding out how patients themselves feel about being touched during treatment. Listening to Leonard’s interviews was enlightening. “You hear the same themes over and over. They’re different stories, but the same themes come out,” Kalman says.

Nursing studies on touch often divide it into task-oriented or procedural touch versus comforting or caring touch. Leonard says “the big thing that the study showed is there is no big division in the patients’ minds.”

She recalls one of the people she interviewed, who, in addition to having cancer as an adult, had been sexually abused as a child. Leonard first expected that the patient’s physical exams would be traumatic, but the patient responded well to uncomfortable and personal procedures when the providers went slowly, listened and explained what they were doing. “That made her feel like she was being listened to and that she was seen as a very whole entity.

“These kinds of stories were really quite pervasive,“ Leonard says.

Another patient she interviewed told her that pats on the arm or wrist seem token when the provider was not truly engaged with her as a person.

“In years past — before I did this and listened to these people – I would have thought, ‘Oh, just reach out and touch them; touch will make them feel better.’ And it really is not necessarily the case,” Leonard says.

Her study taught her that what matters most is that caregivers deeply regard each patient as a unique and whole individual who happens to also have cancer.

hloa-art2Layout 1This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine. Hear Leonard and Kalman’s radio interview about touch.





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Keeping memories alive: Grateful family members donate annually in fathers’ names

Charles E. Moore (left) and Isiah "Ike" Jones, both deceased, were the parents of two Upstate employees who make an annual donation to the Cancer Center in their honor.

Charles E. Moore (left) and Isiah “Ike” Jones, both deceased, were the parents of two Upstate employees who make an annual donation to the Cancer Center in their honor.


A desire to preserve their fathers’ memories and to help find a cure for the lung cancer that afflicted both men inspired two Upstate employees to make a memorial donation to the Upstate Cancer Center.

That’s why the names of Chevelle Jones-Moore and her husband, Brian E. Moore, can be seen among the hundreds listed on two wall displays on the center’s ground floor.

Chenille Jones-Moore and her husband, Brian Moore, the children of the men shown above, perceive smoking as a war and encourage people not to "voluntarily enlist."

Chenille Jones-Moore and her husband, Brian Moore, the children of the men shown above, perceive smoking as a war and encourage people not to “voluntarily enlist.”

“Hopefully, our contributions would help, in the best-case scenario, toward finding a cure, but short of that goal, to develop new forms of treatment,” says Moore, a grants and contracts administrator with the Research Foundation for SUNY whose father, Charles E. Moore, was a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service in Cleveland, Ohio.

Charles Moore shared some things in common with Jones-Moore’s father, Isiah “Ike” Jones, a factory worker at Utica Radiator in Utica. Both served in the military (Jones served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked; Moore served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany during the Korean War). Both men grew up in the South and migrated to the North, and both were smokers who died six months apart, Jones in September 2000 at age 76, and Moore in March 2001 at age 67.

Jones-Moore, who meets many cancer patients in her job as a medical social worker, says that in addition to helping keep the memory of their fathers alive, the memorial reminds her and her husband to donate annually toward finding a cure and to spread the message of how “horrendous” smoking is.

The Moores say they perceive smoking as a war, the war zone being the human body. Chevelle warns future generations: “Do not voluntarily enlist.” The couple reminds us that there are people who have successfully survived this smoking war, thanks to oncology teams such as those at the Upstate Cancer Center.

The Moores consider themselves fortunate to have the opportunity to share their memories, but as Brian reflects, “Everyone listed on the memorial wall has a story.”

While the two memorial wall displays are now closed to new names, there are many other ways to make memorial donations to the Cancer Center, including an upcoming annual wall display, ceramic plaques in the center’s Healing Garden and various naming opportunities throughout the building. For details, contact the Foundation for Upstate at 315-464-4416

The memorial wall at the Cancer Center is a reminder that donors likes the Moores hope to keep up the fight against cancer. (PHOTO BY ROBERT MESCAVAGE)

The memorial wall at the Cancer Center is a reminder that donors likes the Moores hope to keep up the fight against cancer. (PHOTO BY ROBERT MESCAVAGE)

Layout 1This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.












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Haitian-born student shares similarities with Upstate president

Kethia is a third-year medical student.

Kethia Eliezer is in her third year of medical school at Upstate Medical University. Photo by Debbie Rexine.

Third-year medical student Kethia Eliezer introduced Upstate’s new president, Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, at a welcoming reception Thursday night. Both are natives of Haiti.

“When it was first announced that Dr. Laraque Arena would be the new SUNY Upstate president last September, I posted a link of an article about her and picture of her with the caption ‘Haitian-born, yay!’ ” Eliezer began. “My high school friend who lives in Brooklyn commented on my post saying ‘I know her. She worked at Maimonides. She’s a very smart woman. I chatted with her a few times when my daughter was in the hospital. She listens and appeared to be very caring.’

Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, is president of Upstate Medical University.

Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, is president of Upstate Medical University. Photo by Debbie Rexine.

“I know I can go on to list other similar anecdotes as well as her past work experiences in various health communities, but I’m sure you are all aware of her extensive resume.  Instead, I will tell a brief story of how two somewhat parallel lives, separated by a couple of decades, met each other for the first time here in Syracuse, on Monday Feb. 1.

“We were both born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, shaped by our altruistic parents and influenced by our experiences in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. We both moved to the U.S. at a young age, me at the age of 12 and her at the age of 7.

“We have both lived in Westchester County, just a town apart. We have both lived in Philadelphia, Pa., where I completed a masters in medical sciences at Drexel University and where she completed her residency at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“She is now a pediatrician, and I have wanted to be a pediatrician since I was 8 years old. (Just a note, I will be a pediatrician in approximately 1,566 days, but who’s counting, right?)

Eliezer continued: “From talking to Dr. Laraque-Arena on Monday, I can tell that she is very decisive and that we both value fairness, diversity, community, and inclusion. She wishes to bring to SUNY Upstate transparency and a sense that if it’s one person’s problem, its everyone’s problem. She wants to foster change based on data and dialogue among the leaders in the Upstate community.

Upstate President Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, hugs Kethia

Upstate President Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, hugs medical student Kethia Eliezer at her welcoming reception. Photo by Debbie Rexine.

“Though she will no longer be seeing patients, she informed me that she plans on being engaged in the clinical community via teaching, life-long learning, and research. In addition, she will keep in touch with some of her patients because she values long-term patient relationships, something I wish to have as a future physician.

“I can’t explain how special it is for me to share all of these similarities with someone who has done such incredible things. To me and to many others in the SUNY Upstate and Syracuse communities, I am sure she is not only SUNY Upstate’s new president and first female president and first black president, she is someone truly relatable and someone to look up to.

“She will be a role model for many of people. She confirms that I, too, can do great things.”

Laraque-Arena began her first day as president Jan. 14.


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HPV vaccine protects against viral cancers, including those of head and neck

While smoking-related head and neck cancer rates have declined in recent years, that drop has been offset by a rise in cancers caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV.

Robert Kellman, MD

Robert Kellman, MD

Upstate experts say the HPV vaccine is a simple way to protect yourself.

The HPV vaccine was created to protect women from cervical cancer. Now that a strain of HPV has been linked to head and neck cancers, which can affect men and women, “Today everyone coming up from childhood today in our society should be vaccinated,” says Robert Kellman, MD, who leads Upstate’s department of otolaryngology and communication sciences. “We believe if we get everyone vaccinated, in another generation we will no longer have the virally caused cancers.”

The same types of HPV that infect the genital areas can infect the mouth and throat, and some research suggests that oral HPV may be passed on during oral sex, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Seung Shin Hahn, MD

Seung Shin Hahn, MD

Head and neck cancers can affect the voice box, esophagus, throat, pharynx, nose and sinuses. Most of those caused by HPV arise at the base of the tongue and tonsils, in an area known as the oropharynx, notes Upstate radiation oncologist Seung Shin Hahn, MD.

Typically, such cancers are detected after a patient has soreness, trouble swallowing, a swelling that doesn’t respond to antibiotics, ear pain or persistent hoarseness. Some people might assume they have a tooth problem and see their dentist, who can recognize the symptoms and refer patients to a specialist for testing and treatment.

Head and neck cancers that have not spread beyond the neck are most likely curable, says Kellman. Radiation and surgery are the usual treatment options, sometimes with assistance from chemotherapy. He notes that great advances have been made in reconstruction techniques after surgery to remove a tumor.

CDC recommends vaccine

The CDC recommends that all women ages 26 years and younger, and all men ages 21 years and younger, receive three doses of the HPV vaccine, beginning in childhood.

hloa-art2Layout 1Hear a radio interview about the HPV vaccine. This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.


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How many risks will you take? Processed meats increase your chance of colorectal cancer

iStock_000019961545_FullMeats such as breakfast sausage and marinated turkey breast are ready to cook, and meats such as ham and corned beef are ready to eat. Both types are “processed” meats — and both are carcinogenic.

The World Health Organization this fall joined the chorus of health groups warning that bacon, hot dogs and other processed meats can cause cancer. Citing epidemiological studies, the organization said that small increases in the risk of colorectal cancer are associated with eating processed meats. An association with stomach cancer also exists.

Data analyzed from 10 studies estimated that eating 50 grams of processed meat daily increases a person’s relative risk of colorectal cancer by about 18 percent. Fifty grams of processed meat is two strips of bacon, or 2½ slices of bologna.

Maria Erdman, RDN

Maria Erdman, RDN

Unfortunately, there is no way to make processed meats safer, says Maria Erdman, a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in oncology at Upstate. She said not enough research has been done on the new “nitrate-free” processed meats – which are processed with celery seed, a natural source of nitrates – to assess whether they are safer.

Centuries ago, before refrigeration, meats were smoked or salted to extend how long they would be edible. Nitrate was used in the form of saltpeter to cure meats and prevent the growth of the bacteria that causes the deadly disease botulism.

Meat processors eventually shifted to the closely related sodium nitrite because it was more reliable in its effects, and today, such preservatives are added to meats for flavoring, to improve the appearance or texture of the meat, and for food safety. The American Meat Institute points out that since sodium nitrite has been commonly used in commercially prepared meats, no cases of botulism have been linked to processed meats in the United States.

However, the WHO links about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide to diets high in processed meat. It also says a million people die each year from smoking tobacco.

Erdman likes to say that we all have health “bank accounts.” We make deposits when we do things that help our health, such as exercise and eat plant-based foods, and we make withdrawals when we do things that are harmful, such as eat bacon or smoke. She points out that smoking raises a person’s risk of developing cancer much, much more than does eating processed meats.

“It comes down, again, to moderation and thinking about what’s important to you,” she says. “We all take risks every day.”

How many, and which ones, are you comfortable taking?

To reduce your risk:

  • Replace deli meats with fresh poultry or fish.
  • Try vegetarian sausage instead of bacon, chorizo or salami.
  • Replace sausage in chili and soup with kidney beans, chickpeas or lentils.
  • Sample eggs, cottage cheese or hummus as protein sources.
  • Save your favorite processed meats for special occasions.

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research

Posted in cancer, community, nutrition, public health | Leave a comment

Black History ceremony features new president, honors Black National Anthem

Upstate President Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, FAAP, talks with students outside Weiskotten Hall. Photo by Susan Keeter

President Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, FAAP, pictured with Upstate students, gives the keynote address at today’s ceremony. Photo by Susan Keeter.

Upstate’s Black History Month opening ceremony is being held at 11:30 a.m. today (Wednesday, Feb. 3) at the Campus Activities Building. The event includes music, poetry, prayers, awards, a soul food-with-a-healthy-twist lunch and a speech by Upstate’s new president, Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD.  Medical students are performing a dramatic reading of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black National Anthem, which was written 115 years ago by poet James Weldon Johnson. Awards from the Faculty and Staff Association for Diversity are being given to Sharon Contreras, PhD,  and Susan Keeter, MFA.

Keynote speaker Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, FAAP, became the seventh president of Upstate Medical University on Jan. 14. She comes to Syracuse from Brooklyn, where she served as chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Maimonides Medical Center and vice president of Maimonides Infants and Children’s Hospital. Laraque-Arena is a pediatrician who was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She was 7 when her family fled and settled in Queens. By the age of 12, she decided she wanted to use a career in medicine and research to help others. “My parents were an incredible influence on my life,” says Laraque-Arena. “That mission to serve the poor — not in a charity way, but in a way that people have the right to health care, and live OK and send their kids to school — that’s a message I got from the very beginning.”

Laraque-Arena is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in injury prevention, child abuse, adolescent health risk behaviors and issues critical to health care delivery in underserved communities. She is also the recipient of numerous academic, research, community and public service awards.

Sharon L. Contreras, PhD

Sharon L. Contreras, PhD

Sharon L. Contreras, PhD, superintendent of the Syracuse City School District, is receiving the community leader award for her efforts to provide high quality education to all children. Contreras began her career as a high school English teacher in Rockford, Ill., then went on to serve as a principal, area superintendent and assistant superintendent. Throughout her tenure, she worked to implement a federal court order to desegregate the Rockford Public Schools. In 2011, Contreras became superintendent of the Syracuse City School District. She is the first female superintendent of the school district, and the first woman of color to serve as superintendent of one of New York State’s Big Five districts (New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers). Under Contreras’ leadership, the school district has significantly enhanced its academic programming for students. She has spearheaded initiatives to address not only students’ educational needs, but their health and social-emotional needs as well. She has worked to expand the Promise Zone program to every elementary, K-8 and middle school, and to provide critical supports and resources to students with emotional or behavioral challenges. Contreras serves on many boards. She has degrees from SUNY Binghamton and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a 2010 graduate of The Broad Academy, an advanced development program for education leaders.

Susan Keeter, MFA Photo by Sara Tucker

Susan Keeter, MFA
Photo by Sara Tucker.

Susan Keeter, MFA, assistant director for creative services, Marketing & University Communications, is receiving the Upstate employee award for promoting the goals and accomplishments of the African American community. Keeter has promoted Upstate’s first African-American graduate, Sarah Loguen, MD, 1876, by painting her portrait, writing her biography, and proposing a building-naming. Keeter helped establish Upstate’s CSTEP program, the Synergy internships and marrow drives to benefit African-American patients. As part of her marketing/ communications work, Keeter designs displays and writes articles for Upstate, often focusing on people of color and issues of multiculturalism. Her support of the award-winning Healthy Neighbors collaboration with Syracuse Housing resulted in the book, “Our Community, Our Health.”

As part of Upstate’s outreach, Keeter volunteers with 100 Black Men, the Duck Race Against Racism, and Mary Nelson’s Back To School Barbecue/Backpack Giveaway.

Keeter is the illustrator of children’s books which feature African Americans, including “Phillis Sings Out Freedom,” “An Apple for Harriet Tubman,” “Tippy Lemmy,” “The Piano,” “Harry’s House,” and “Honey Baby, Sugar Child,” which was a finalist in the NAACP Image Awards. Keeter is a guest artist at libraries, festivals and schools, including doing multiple presentations in Auburn on the 100th anniversary of the passing of Harriet Tubman.

Chef Blue (Will Lewis) is catering the should food luncheon which is free and open to the public. Photo by Susan Keeter.

Chef Blue (Will Lewis) is catering the soul food luncheon which is free and open to the public. Photo by Susan Keeter.


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Measuring, treating a patient’s distress is part of shift in attitudes

Years ago, people believed a cancer diagnosis meant death. They were so ashamed of the disease that its name was mentioned only in whispers.

Jimmie Holland, MD, has written, co-written or edited numerous articles, books and book chapters on cancer, including the book "The Human Side of Cancer: Living With Hope, Coping With Uncertainty" (HarperCollins, 2000).

Jimmie Holland, MD, has written, co-written or edited numerous articles, books and book chapters on cancer, including the book “The Human Side of Cancer: Living With Hope, Coping With Uncertainty” (HarperCollins, 2000).

Fast-forward 50 years. “Most people today say, ‘Well, I think maybe I’m going to be OK’ when they get a cancer diagnosis,” says Jimmie Holland, MD, founder of the field of psycho-oncology, who spoke at Upstate this fall. She leads the psychiatric oncology department at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

She credits the attitudinal shift to:

* development of quantitative tools to measure levels of pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, delirium and health-related quality of life factors. With ways to measure outcomes, scientists could conduct clinical trials that focused on psychosocial issues.

* celebrities including Betty Ford and Happy Rockefeller coming forward to share their cancer diagnoses.

* the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, which in the late 1990s embarked on ways to improve psychosocial care for people with cancer. The group’s research led to the use of the less-stigmatizing word “distress” in place of “psychiatric,” “psychosocial” or “emotional.”

Holland says appreciation for the role distress plays in a patient’s healing is slowly catching on. The network’s standard of care guidelines say distress should be recognized, monitored, documented in patient records and treated appropriately.

Layout 1This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.

Posted in bioethics, cancer, community, mental health, psychiatry, research | Leave a comment

Read about Upstate expertise in Physicians Practice magazine

physpractThe February edition of Physicians Practice magazine showcases Upstate experts from gerontology, urology, otolaryngology, nursing and pharmacy, as well as a story about Danielle Laraque-Arena, Upstate’s new president.

Physicians Practice is a publication that is distributed to physicians throughout the Central New York region.


Posted in Alzheimer's disease, community, dementia, ENT, nursing, pharmacy, surgery, urology | Leave a comment

Baby King needs a bone marrow donor. Can you help?

King Nazir Leon, 2, needs a bone marrow transplant, the only cure for a rare disease that affects his immune system. Photo by Mike Greenlar/Syracuse Media Group.

King Nazir Leon, 2, needs a bone marrow transplant. Potential donors can register today at Upstate’s Setnor Hall and Cancer Center. Photo by Mike Greenlar/Syracuse Media Group

King Nazir Leon, age 2, has CD40 Ligand deficiency, a rare disease that affects his immune system and is life-threatening. He has monthly, day-long treatments at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse. His mother, Denisha DeLee, is vigilant about his health, watching for any sniffle or sign of fever, which means a race to the emergency room and probable hospitalization. At this stage, King’s best hope is a bone marrow match.

Would you take 20 minutes to try to save Baby King from this disease?

Tesha English collects tissue samples by swabbing her mouth with a Q-tip, a key component to registering as a marrow donor, 2008.

Tesha English collects tissue samples by swabbing her mouth with a Q-tip, a key component to registering as a marrow donor. Photo by Susan Keeter.

If you are between the ages of 18 and 44, and willing to donate to any patient in need, come to Upstate Medical University and sign up for the marrow registry today (Friday, Jan. 29). African-Americans are especially encouraged to register because King is most likely to match with someone of his own race. (Tissue types are inherited, so marrow transplant patients are most likely to match with someone of their own ethnicity.) However, everyone is welcome to join.

King loves Mickey Mouse, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles and his Grandma Honey. He likes listening to music, especially the hip-hop song, “Long Live the King,” created for him by Makhai “Truth Speaker” Bailey, a 16-year-old student at Syracuse’s Henninger High School. Bailey, who is too young to donate himself,  performs the song to raise awareness of King and his need for a marrow transplant.

King’s mother plans to be at the marrow drive to thank the students and staff at Upstate for trying to find a donor. The marrow donor drive is open to the public from 10 a.m. to noon at Upstate’s Setnor Hall atrium and 2 to 4 p.m. at the Upstate Cancer Center lobby.

If you  are unable to attend today’s drive, and would like to register as a marrow donor or host your own marrow drive, contact the the William G. Pomeroy Foundation at info@wgpfoundation.org.

To learn more about the bone marrow registry, go to the national donor program, Be the Match.

To learn more about Baby King, read this Post Standard story.

What is a bone marrow transplant?

A bone marrow transplant is a life-saving treatment for people with leukemia, lymphoma and many other diseases. First, patients undergo chemotherapy and sometimes radiation to destroy their diseased marrow. Then a donor’s healthy blood-forming cells are put into the patient’s bloodstream, where they can begin to function and multiply. In order for a patient’s body to accept these healthy cells, the donor’s tissue type needs to match the patient’s type as closely as possible. Patients who do not have a suitably matched donor in their family may search the National Marrow Donor Program Registry for an unrelated bone marrow donor or cord blood unit. –National Marrow Donor Program

Posted in community, education, Golisano, health care, hospital, medical student, patient stories, public health, transplant, volunteers | Leave a comment