December 1, 2023

Surviving — and thriving — after cancer

From diagnosis to recovery, David Parsons, MD, shares how screening, treatment, and early intervention can save lives.

People who receive cancer care at Kaiser Permanente have higher survival rates in part because they are better screened for preventable cancers — especially cancers of the breast, colon, and cervix.

One of those survivors is Nicole Friedman from Portland, Oregon, who recently recovered from colon cancer. Friedman was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer at age 34, only a few months after giving birth to her son. When her symptoms persisted and worsened over time, she knew something was wrong — she had stage 3 cancer.

Her obstetrician at Kaiser Permanente ordered an ultrasound that led to the colonoscopy and emergency surgery that ultimately saved her life. Today, she’s cancer-free and credits her survival to having access to excellent medical care and support for her physical and mental health.

Friedman isn’t only a recipient of health care at Kaiser Permanente, she’s also a social health leader with the organization. She sat down with David Parsons, MD, colon and rectal surgeon at Kaiser Permanente, to discuss how better screening, early detection, innovative new treatment options, and integrated care teams are helping patients not only survive cancer diagnoses, but live longer and better.

How common is this kind of success story?

Dr. Parsons: More people in the United States are surviving cancer than ever before. Kaiser Permanente members are 20% less likely to die prematurely of cancer.

Why do Kaiser Permanente patients have better survival rates than the general population?

Dr. Parsons: Our members have a significantly higher screening rate than the national average for preventable cancers, such as breast, colon, and cervical cancer. Our doctors, specialists, and oncology experts are all part of the same organization and work closely together, so they always have your latest medical history and treatment plan. Creating an integrated, specialized approach to cancer care that focuses on the personal needs of each patient is at the core of what we do.

What does personalized cancer treatment at Kaiser Permanente look like?

Friedman: My doctors, care team, and nurse navigator were with me every step of the way, making sure I had the right care plan and the resources I needed to heal. I only had to tell my story once, and from there my care was focused on a multispecialty integrated care plan to treat and cure.

What lessons would you share with others?

Dr. Parsons: Cancer generates a lot of fear, but more and more people and especially young people are surviving cancer. It is critical that we reduce the stigma around cancer and create plans that extend beyond medical treatment and into long-term survival. We also need to build up community resources and support programs so that everyone has the services they need to follow a care plan. That means making sure people have a ride to their infusion appointment and access to adequate nutrition.

Learn more about cancer care at Kaiser Permanente.