PHD candidate Helen Anderson hopes her research will result in improved care and support for people diagnosed with metastatic bladder cancer.
As the Genitourinary Cancer Nurse Navigator at Gold Coast Health, Helen’s day-to-day role involves supporting patients who have been diagnosed with mainly advanced cancers found in the urinary system and the male reproductive system.
Despite a lengthy career working as a Medical Oncology nurse, Helen realised she knew very little about bladder cancer until she worked as a uro-oncology nurse within the Urology service at the Mater Hospital Brisbane specifically supporting patients with bladder cancer in surgical oncology.
“I thought, there’s all of these cancer patients we don’t see in medical oncology and they go through so much. They have their bladders removed which effects them physically and emotionally for many months and years after treatment and often many of them still develop advanced disease despite the surgery.
"Giving chemotherapy prior to surgery has reduced that risk but it still requires the patient going through extensive treatment both medically and surgically," she said.
Helen said the nurse navigator role was introduced about 18 months ago to help support patients with genitourinary cancers including bladder cancer who required medical and surgical treatments.
“It’s the link between urology and oncology. I make sure the patients have support as they transition from surgical care to oncology. I’m able to chat to the patients before they even come to oncology to prepare them, so they have that support person already in place and a contact for them if they have any concerns or questions,” she said.
Helen is taking her work in filling the gap in care for bladder cancer patients one step further with her PHD research.
It will focus on people who have been diagnosed with metastatic bladder cancer, which is cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
“There’s not much research in that area at the moment and all of the research is clinical drug trials,” she said.
“I’ll be looking at factors that influence symptom burden and quality of life in that patient group.
“It can be hard to do research in that group due to low patient numbers and because the survival is short, but this also makes it even more important to do the research so that we can we understand what these patients are going through.”
The project is still in its infancy but Helen anticipates the research will include engaging with patients and documenting their symptoms and Quality of Life (QOL) at various stages throughout their journeys.
“Everything we do at the moment is reactive. I want to see if there are any patterns in patient symptoms so we can start putting preventative measures in place,” she said.
“For example, we may see that patients with bone metastases have more pain than patients with lung or liver metastases.
“There will be patterns and this will allow health care workers to screen and identify high risk patients that may be predisposed to certain symptoms and develop preventative supportive interventions and tailored education to reduce symptom burden early on.”
Helen hopes the work she does over the next six to eight years will bring genuine outcomes for patients she passionately wants to help have a better quality of life.
“I’ve always wanted to do my own research in something I was passionate about,” she said. “I don’t want to do anything that won’t make difference to patients and their families.”