Providing a support system for cancer patients

When La Cañada Flintridge resident Nancy Illian went to the doctorseven and half years ago with concern over an issue with her menstrual period, she knew she wasn’t just wasting time. Forty-eight at the time, Illian had been the opposite of a hypochondriac up to that point in her life, only visiting the doctor when absolutely necessary.

Her doctor told her not to worry, so she went home. However, after finding herself uncomfortably bloated, Illian went back, only to have the doctor tell her to do some sit-ups to relieve the problem.

“I didn’t take that for an answer,” said Illian.

After successfully pushing for an ultrasound, Illian was told she might have a cyst. Her doctor tracked her for four weeks before sending her to oncologist Dr. Richard Friedman at Glendale Memorial Hospital.

It turns out Illian had been right to be concerned — she had ovarian cancer.

“We were sitting in the waiting room [when] I saw him pick up my ultrasound at the desk … he didn’t even have to examine me, he knew by looking at it what it was,” said Illian.

The long delay in diagnosis had allowed the cancer to spread into her lymph nodes, and Illian underwent about 18 months of chemotherapy with Dr. Kalust Ucar at Glendale Memorial before the cancer was driven into remission, where it has remained.

Today Illian is a board member of the Pacific Shores Hematology-Oncology Foundation, a non-profit founded in 2006 that works to support cancer education and research, as well as to improve quality of life for cancer patients.

Jann Buaziz, executive director of the foundation, said that Illian is a “worker bee,” helping out wherever she can and editing the foundation’s informational materials and newsletters.

Also a La Cañada resident, Ucar was a co-founder of the foundation, which shares a name with his practice, the Pacific Shores Medical Group. The foundation is separate from the medical practice and is headquartered in Long Beach.

Ucar said he got involved because he saw patients who weren’t receiving the full support they needed for their fight against cancer.

“You make the diagnosis, you prescribe some form of treatment to cure the cancer, and all of the sudden you face problems,” said Ucar. “The patient has a co-pay, or the patient needs support at home and the insurance doesn’t cover, or the patient needs transportation but they can’t drive and can’t afford to pay for a cab.”

Ucar said he and his partners wanted to help close these gaps.

Not only does Pacific Shores donate to cancer research at UCLA and support education for oncology nurses, but it directly supports patients. The foundation’s Woman to Woman campaign has granted more than $45,000 to women who cannot afford medically-necessary treatment.

In addition, the foundation’s “Artist Within” eight-week watercolor painting workshop helps cancer patients express their challenges and triumphs in treatment.

Illian said that one thing about the Pacific Shores Foundation that she really appreciates was that the board is filled with fellow cancer survivors who can bring their first-hand knowledge to bear in crafting the programs.

As for her own involvement, Illian said it stemmed from thinking about her own luck. Illian’s husband and daughter are pharmacists and can read up on her medications and possible side effects and take some of treatment’s burden off of her.

“They knew what to look out for, so I could just live my life like every day is normal,” said Illian.

Illian wanted to help those people who were undergoing cancer treatment, but who didn’t have that support system.

“I thought about all the people out there who don’t have anyone like I did,” said Illian. “I think there’s just no way they could go through chemo and do that … after going through that first-hand, you know you need to have that support system."

For more information or donations, call Jann Buaiz at (800) 303-0131.

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