Sundra Taylor crosses her arms and poses for a photo.
Sundra Taylor and her daughter, Lacey Krohn, know the value of a second opinion. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

“There are always options.”

That’s what Judy Smith, MD, chief of oncology at Spectrum Health, believes is essential for patients to understand.

“They do have options,” she said. And by options, she means getting a second opinion.

It was this message, and its profound power to ensure cancer patients are getting the best and right treatment for their diagnosis, that led Dr. Smith and colleagues to explore how the Spectrum Health Cancer Center could simplify the process of expert consultation for patients and families.

“We saw that newly diagnosed patients and even physicians weren’t sure who—or how—to access our services (including second opinions) when facing a cancer diagnosis,” Dr. Smith said. “We wanted to solve that issue, and easy access was the key.”

First-hand story of a second opinion

Lacey Krohn and her mother, Sundra Taylor, learned the value of a second opinion the hard way.

In 2014, Taylor had a colonoscopy performed in her community more than an hour away from Grand Rapids. The procedure showed a tumor.

A biopsy-turned-surgery removed the tumor and confirmed it was cancerous. Unfortunately for Krohn and her mom, conflicting recommendations, multiple medical facilities and serious complications left them confused and frightened.

“Months were going by as we tried to understand what was the best thing to do,” Krohn said. “And several times, things went wrong. The cancer was advancing and we were running out of time.”

Since 26-year-old Krohn was single-handedly managing her mother’s care while working full time, she felt overwhelmed.

“I only wanted what was the best care for my mom, and we weren’t sure where to turn.” she said. “My mom was frustrated, I was frustrated.”

Krohn eventually Googled “cancer centers in Grand Rapids.”

This was the turning point, as she reached out and was connected to a Spectrum Health nurse navigator.

“I can’t even tell you how fantastic (the navigator) was to us,” Krohn said. “She went so far above and beyond, every single time we needed something. She was like family with us and really saved us.”

With the help of the nurse navigator, Lacey’s mom was quickly scheduled with Nehal Lakhani, MD, at the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion.

“My mom was at the end of her rope and was resisting even going further after all she’d been through,” Krohn said. “But with the cancer spreading, she knew she had no choice.”

Thanks to a new treatment plan—which Dr. Lakhani made sure both mother and daughter clearly understood—Taylor’s condition started looking up. After completing her care plan of chemotherapy and radiation, she is in remission.

“The Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion is amazing,” Krohn said. “Dr. Lakhani, Amanda, our oncology nurse, and Tracy, our nurse navigator, were constantly there for us. Tracy did all the ‘dirty work’ and took the pressure off of me completely. My mom is doing great.”

Mission accomplished

It was precisely this kind of story that Dr. Smith and her colleagues sought to make easier for any cancer patient.

She said it didn’t take much brainstorming at a strategy retreat to land on the winning solution: A toll-free hotline that a patient or a doctor could pick up and call, anytime.

And that’s how 855.SHCANCER (855.742.26237) was born. (Seeing an extra digit? Yes. It works!)

Health Beat asked Dr. Smith to share a little more about how the hotline works, and she was glad to share the good news.

Q: Who can benefit from the hotline?

A: If you are a newly diagnosed cancer patient, this reassuring resource is ready and waiting for your call. You do not need a doctor’s referral to access our services.

Q: How can the hotline help?

A: If you’ve just been diagnosed, you want all the input you can get, such as a second opinion. Maybe you are considering treatment options and would like to be seen at Spectrum Health to learn if other options exist. Maybe you have learned of (or wonder if) there is a multispecialty team or specialist that might be helpful for your type of cancer. Call us.

Q: What can people expect when they call?

A: Our experienced staff will gather some basic information and connect you to the person who can best assess and assist your situation. Most often, this is a nurse navigator, who specializes in coordinating all the needs of a cancer care patient. The nurse navigator can arrange an appointment with a multispecialty team for your type of cancer and situation. If there is a particular specialist that may benefit your care, the nurse navigator can also connect you to that expert.

Q: What if you live outside the metro Grand Rapids area?

A: No problem! We can connect you to the Spectrum Health Cancer Center site and resources you need that are closest to your home. We have locations in Reed City, Ludington, Fremont and Zeeland hospitals. We can help direct you to the best resources to fit your situation, in the most convenient location.

Q: What about their primary care doctor?

A: Keep your primary care doctor in the loop. His or her discussions with you are an important part of the balance in your care. Let him or her know that you are exploring Spectrum Health’s resources for your cancer treatment.

Q: What else should we know?

A: If you or someone you know is preparing to win against cancer, we are ready to help. Call us at 855.SHCANCER (855.742.26237), Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. You may leave a message if you call after hours and we will return your call the next business day.

To view more cancer patient stories, click here.