EASTON — For the baby boomer generation, landing a man on the moon was the impossible dream that became a reality. Like the original moonshot, the goal of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative is to make the dream of a cure a reality.
For one baby boomer from Oxford, her quest for top-notch, community-based oncology care on the Eastern Shore led her to the Cancer Moonshot briefing at the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 11.
Dr. Michele Potter-Williams, a nurse practitioner with the University of Maryland Shore Regional Cancer Center in Easton, represented the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) at the Moonshot briefing.
“I am proud and honored to have received an invitation from the White House to collaborate with the (former) president’s health policy team, and on behalf of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative,” Potter-Williams said.
“I’m an advocate for oncology patients,” the Talbot County native said. “It was great being able to network with people from other organizations, to see if we’re behind the times and needing to improve.” Potter-Williams joined the Regional Cancer Center last year as the clinical trials research nurse.
The National Cancer Institute-sponsored briefing was comprised of sessions on “improving innovation and access to quality cancer care” in the community health setting, exploring the unique aspects of community oncology, cancer disparities, survivorship and support services, advancing clinical trials and innovative models of care delivery in the community setting, and the future of health care for people affected by cancer.
Potter-Williams’ passion for patient advocacy prompted the Oncology Nursing Society to nominate her to attend the Cancer Moonshot to explore the challenges in community oncology and to advocate for the needs of oncology patients from the Eastern Shore. Potter-Williams volunteers with ACS CAN as a co-state lead ambassador for Maryland and Talbot Hospice in Easton.
The purpose of the Cancer Moonshot is “to accelerate cancer research (and) to make more therapies available to more patients, while also improving our ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage,” according to the initiative’s sponsor, the National Cancer Institute.
Driving back home to Trappe at the end of the all-day conference, Potter-Williams said, “I felt so empowered, like you really do have a voice.” She felt that the Regional Cancer Center was “on the same level as the other organizations. It didn’t feel like, being from the Eastern Shore, we’re 10 years behind. It felt like we’re near the top of what we’re doing.”
Potter-Williams, a native of Oxford, has been nursing here for 38 years. She began her career in the Talbot County vo-tech program, earning her licensed practical nurse certification when she was 18 years old. She recently earned her doctor of nursing degree from Walden University.
“When I went over (to the White House), I had no idea why I was invited,” Potter-Williams said, “How did I end up here, a little country girl from Oxford? What do they expect of me? What can I bring to the table?”
Her animated facial expressions and gestures help Potter-Williams convey her passion. “I’m an advocate for oncology patients,” she said with emphasis. “Years ago, I told my mother, ‘One day I’m going to Capitol Hill and give them a piece of my mind.’”
Potter-Williams has done just that. She said her mother and sisters tried to convince her not to drive to Washington, D.C., to lobby legislators. “You don’t understand,” she told them. “I have to be an advocate for patients who can’t go themselves.”
Potter-Williams said she has been there “about 10 times now” lobbying legislators as a volunteer with ACS CAN for policies like “funding research and clinical trials through the National Institutes of Health.” She said that she’s gotten more comfortable making the trip back and forth “across the bridge.”
“It’s easier to stay home,” she said. “But that’s not an option. You have to go outside your comfort zone to help someone else.”
Potter-Williams said that she has “seen a revolution” in cancer treatment in Easton.
“Years ago, patients needing treatment were admitted to the hospital for a week of treatment,” she said, adding that patients would experience nausea for days. “Now, nausea is rare. Now, patients (may) drive themselves to the Cancer Center for a half-hour of chemotherapy and go back to work.”
“It always felt like we were coming from behind to catch up with symptoms.” she said. “When I see how far we’ve come (since then), it’s just absolutely mind-boggling.”
Like a detective, Potter-Williams researches clinical trials that can be administered and managed at the Regional Cancer Center to provide treatments that may lead to the remission of a patient’s cancer, and perhaps a cure. “I don’t take no for an answer. I’ve got to find a solution that can help someone.”
She said the center offers multi-disciplinary comprehensive care like Johns Hopkins and Fox Chase. “I just find that really exciting,” she said. “To be on the same page as other cancer treatment centers. Our staff here is just amazing; they all give 110 percent. We’re moving forward. Our patients are receiving top-notch care here, and it’s really exciting.”
Potter-Williams returned home from the White House briefing encouraged about the future of cancer care and finding a cure. “I love what I do,” said Potter-Williams, who turns 56 on Valentine’s Day. “I just love it. I love being an advocate for my patients.”
The following organizations were represented at the Cancer Moonshot: the Cancer Support Community, the Oncology Nursing Society, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Association of Community Cancer Centers, the Community Oncology Alliance, McKesson Specialty Health, Sarah Cannon Research Institute, the U.S. Oncology Network and Whitman-Walker Health.