Matt was 26-years-old with two children when he came in to discuss his colorectal cancer diagnosis with me.
He and his wife were devastated and shocked. Discussing his goals, he said he wanted to work, live his life and spend all the time he could with his family and friends — even as he girded for the fight of his life.
Battling cancer means seizing the day while fighting for tomorrows — that’s true for most people. Yet, too often our health care system treats these twin impulses as separate spheres. Billions of dollars go into potential treatments and cures, though relatively little attention on the lives, goals and circumstances of patients.
At the same time, cancer survivorship services have developed effective approaches for patients to live, work and play with more energy and less pain or distress. But these resources often exist apart from innovative research and clinical care. Matt, like many others, faced logistical, financial, physical and emotional concerns that often are dealt with in fragmented ways, putting even more stress on patients and caregivers.
At the Livestrong Cancer Institutes of the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, research and wellness missions are intertwined like DNA strands. In creating the Institutes, we are poised to transform the way people fight cancer as individuals, families and a society.
This opportunity is unique for many reasons. One is the connection between the Dell Medical School and the Livestrong Foundation, a groundbreaking Austin-based organization that has revolutionized patient-centered care around the world. We’re also fortunate to partner with the Seton Healthcare Family and to grow among outstanding, compassionate physicians who have worked tirelessly to improve the health of Central Texans.
And there’s the Travis County community, which took the unprecedented step in 2012 of voting to create the medical school — in part for its potential to transform the ways we fight and prevent cancer. Central Health, which collects the tax dollars that support Dell Med, works to improve the health of people with low incomes or without insurance; so will the Livestrong Cancer Institutes.
The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which Texas voters overwhelmingly approved 10 years ago, also leads the cancer fight by leveraging grants to bring some of the best and brightest minds in cancer research and treatment to the Institutes, Central Texas and the rest of the state.
A bottom-up planning process for the Institutes will take advantage of all of these assets, integrating the community’s expertise with its needs. This effort is already taking shape; we are getting input from patients, families, caregivers, physicians, providers and others who live and work in every part of Travis County’s health ecosystem.
Building upon Livestrong’s rich history, the Institutes will incorporate, leverage and expand patient support services locally through transformative patient-centered cancer care initiatives. These will reflect Dell Med’s value-based health strategy: delivering better health outcomes by prioritizing people, not just medicine.
We also are bringing together innovative cancer researchers from across the UT campus and beyond, fostering collaborations and identifying nascent programs to guide recruitment and help direct our research strategy. The Institutes will initiate a robust cancer drug development program. And we’ll emphasize prevention, working with partners on strategies targeted at individuals and neighborhoods.
Key to this effort are dedicated Central Texas physicians who have created a strong foundation for care here. Working within this community of entrepreneurial medical leaders, the Institutes will contribute to and expand disease-focused, multidisciplinary, patient-centered and accessible cancer care.
By doing all of these things, the Livestrong Cancer Institutes are poised to become a world-class center for cancer care innovation that reflects the community and addresses its needs. The Dell Medical School’s mission is to revolutionize the way people like Matt get and stay healthy. Similarly, ours will be to transform the way society treats and cares for cancer, prevents it, and works to cure it while focusing on the present and the future.
Eckhardt is the inaugural director of the Livestrong Cancer Institutes and associate dean of cancer programs for the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas.