13th Annual All Cancer Symposium guided hundreds of Michigan cancer patients and caregivers, provided resources and tips to optimize care

Close to 500 people in Detroit, Lansing, and Flint attended the 13th Annual All Cancer Symposium on Sept. 9, 2023. This free event was held in person and virtually, allowing people from across the state to participate.

“This was ideal for anyone recently diagnosed, their families and friends, survivors, caregivers — anyone who’s been touched by cancer,” said event host Elisabeth Heath, M.D., FACP, medical oncologist and leader of the Genitourinary Oncology Multidisciplinary Team at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. “It revealed for the community exactly what we do at Karmanos and the types of research we conduct.”

This year’s theme was “The Cancer Patient’s Journey: What You Need to Know.” Multiple steps on the cancer journey were discussed by oncologists and specialists who provide care and resources to cancer patients, including types of cancer treatment, legal rights for patients, genetic testing, clinical trials, and what to expect after surviving cancer.

The keynote speaker was Kathy Smolinski, MSW, JD, director of Legal Advocacy for People with Cancer Clinics at Wayne State University Law School. Smolinski provided a conclusive round-up of legal suggestions for cancer patients. By narrowing down three areas of concern — life planning, housing, and work and public benefits — Smolinski also focused on patient comfort and security. Pre-planning and knowledge of available assistance remain vital points, keeping in mind that social determinants drive 60% of healthcare decisions. Smolinski also stressed that a cancer diagnosis creates a pause in life, enabling patients to seek legal answers for better overall preparation.

Watch Smolinksi’s presentation here.

In the event's first half, attendees learned about the roles of imaging, genetic testing and counseling, and clinical trials. Natasha Robinette, M.D., radiologist and clinical chief of imaging at Karmanos, covered imaging technology. Dr. Robinette related to patients and caregivers in attendance as she shared her 20-year cancer survivorship. She stressed that cancer doesn’t discriminate. She used a “Where’s Waldo” analogy to explain how finding cancer cells can be difficult.

“Imaging is a window, and early detection through imaging –  that is, ‘finding Waldo’ – helps us reach the goal of ‘cruise control,” she explained. “Cruise control, or cancer follow-up, is what patients strive for as cancer survivors.”

Watch Dr. Robinette’s presentation here.

Courtney Kokenakes, MS, LCGC, a genetic counselor with the Karmanos Cancer Genetic Counseling Service, discussed DNA testing in families to break down the percentages, or likelihood, of developing cancer for offspring and siblings. She explained the differences between “hobby testing” of genetics and genomes through biotechnology companies like 23andMe and medical testing, adding that molecular clues are road maps to diagnosis, treatment and progress.

“There are genetic mutations, and they don’t skip generations in families,” said Kokenakes, revealing that genetic tumor testing can be determined by blood or saliva.

Watch Kokenakes’ presentation here.

Diving into the role of clinical trials, Hayley S. Thompson, Ph.D., associate center director of Community Outreach and Engagement at Karmanos, explained the importance of understanding the priorities of cancer in communities “because cancer is life-shifting.”

“In recent years, the mistrust of medicine and the medical world has grown,” said Thompson, who also serves as the faculty supervisor of the Office of Cancer Health Equity and Community Engagement at Karmanos. “But we can improve that and public health through clinical trials and prevention, screening, treatment, and overall quality of life. And we need diverse input within those trials to test trial medications and more. The benefits span from adopting healthy behaviors and experiencing early detection to improving community standards through addressing, and dispelling, myths centered on fears and suspicions.”

Watch Dr. Thompson’s presentation here.

Dr. Thompson also announced the debut of the Karmanos Academy, a program to help patients and community members provide important cancer information to inform their neighborhoods better, helping to not only prevent medical mistrust but also provide important information related to cancer prevention and control to their communities.

The day also featured panel discussions where experts and cancer survivors talked about how patients and caregivers can navigate their journey, focusing on stages of care, including when a patient is newly diagnosed, going through treatment, and their continuity of care after treatment. Watch the panel discussions by clicking on the prior mentioned stages of cancer care.

The yearly symposium is presented in partnership with the Karmanos Cancer Advocacy Program (KCAP), Karmanos Cancer Network, and McLaren Health Care. For more educational events for cancer patients and caregivers, visit the Karmanos event page here.


This article was written by Wendy Clem, Macomb County Cancer Action Council member.