CAC Member Profile: Sue Suchy

20 January 2016
CAC Member Sue Suchy

Answering an ad in the local newspaper to join the TCRN Consumer Advisory Committee ("CAC") was all it took for Sue Suchy’s volunteering proclivities to find a truly meaningful home.

Sue, a three-time survivor of oral cancer, had often found herself on the periphery of charitable and other volunteer work, but the opportunity to use her cancer experience to contribute to research was too good to pass up.

“It was just a very small ad, asking if anyone was interested in being a consumer rep in assisting with cancer research,” Sue said. 

“With cancer, it’s a specifically scary diagnosis when you get it, no matter what type of cancer. I guess my view was that consumers need to be involved in the terms of research that’s done and help shape priorities for research, but also provide a voice for patients from the beginning to the end of that cancer journey.”

Since joining the CAC in 2013, Sue has engaged with a variety of projects being conducted by TCRN researchers. These include partnering with a research team led by TCRN member Dr Nham Tran on a project to develop new techniques for the early diagnosis of head and neck cancers. 

“To me, the most exciting work’s the stuff at UTS with oral cancer,” Sue said. 

“They’ve come up with a blood test that identifies a change in the RNAs of people who have early stage oral cancer, which then allows those people to get early treatment. I think it’s fantastic – I put my hand up at the TCRN and said ‘I want to be involved in that!’”

Sue has also been working as an associate investigator on the TCRN’s Primary Care project , which looks at models of follow-up care for cancer patients whose treatment has finished and who are considered ‘cancer free’ 12 months later.

The project was initially developed to test clinician and patient responses to the idea of shifting follow-up care out of the specialist sphere and into a primary care setting – that is, for patients who have successfully completed treatment to be looked after by their GP rather than their cancer care specialist.

The research team conducted a series of interviews with GPs, oncologists and patients to gather qualitative data. Sue contributed to the development of the interview questions, helping edit the content to ensure that it was easy for patients to understand.

“I did a mock interview on the survey to help refine the questions, revise them using plain English rather than clinical terminology, and I had direct input into the types of questions that they asked at the beginning of the project,” Sue said.

“I also participate in monthly phone hook-ups with the research team as the project continues to progress.” 

While Sue has a personal connection to research with a specific focus on oral cancer, she views her work with the TCRN as an opportunity to speak on behalf of all patients who are making their way through the overwhelming world of cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“The big issue for me from my experience has been patients having a voice, or a voice in their own treatment but also access to information in order to make informed decisions,” she said.

“I’m interested in the expediency of getting money to the places or the projects that are going to be practical, and where you can see the end of the road in terms of outcomes for patients.”

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