It’s been little more than a year since the Regional Cancer Treatment Task Force began meeting with the goal of increasing cancer resources and care in southwest Riverside County. In that time the task force has heard many of the stories of those affected by cancer, talked to care providers and collected data.
Temecula City Councilmember Mike Naggar, one of the leading forces behind the task force, said he’s proud of what’s been accomplished so far. He said putting together the taskforce and learning more about the needs of both cancer patients and care providers in the region have been important first steps, but the next few months are going to mark the starting phase of finding ways to bring those resources and care providers here.
“It’ll be up to each city to take that information, give it to their economic development departments and make the magic happen,” Naggar said.
The Regional Cancer Task Force is composed of representatives from the cities of Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, Menifee, Wildomar and Canyon Lake, as well as from care providers such as the Riverside University Health System, Temecula Valley Hospital, Scripps Health and Michelle’s Place Breast Cancer Resource Center, among others.
The task force committed itself in its early stages to identifying gaps in cancer care and needs in the region. To do that, they brought on Palm Desert-based nonprofit Health Assessment and Research for Communities to find out what those needs were and to consult with the task force about them.
The meetings have also allowed cancer patients, their family members and care providers to talk about some of the things that are needed. Medical care providers have been able to communicate issues they have had. Sometimes difficulties that they have never shared with anyone, Naggar said.
He used the example of Michelle’s Place, a leading entity in the region in helping people obtain services when they’re diagnosed with breast cancer.
“They had a whole story to tell,” he said. “They were telling us that, and it was overwhelmingly agreed, that one of the main things that people have trouble with is just what they call patient navigation. People didn’t know what to do or how to navigate the system.”
Naggar said the task force is starting to come to a clearer picture of what’s needed.
“We know the different types of cancer, the different rates of cancer; we know where the services are; we know what’s offered in town; we know where we’re lacking,” he said. “That’s where we’re at now.”
He said the decision to start a task force and fill existing needs in cancer care came about after seeing what his longtime assistant went through in caring for her young daughter who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare kind of cancerous tumor that attacks the bones and the soft tissues surrounding the bones.
“At the time I saw what it did to her,” he said. “Not only having a child with cancer and all that comes with that emotionally, but in practicality, how do you deal with all the things you have to do and all the decisions you have to make? There’s all of the scans, all of the medications and all of the doctor’s appointments. None of this was convenient, and none of this was easy and none of this was close.”
Her child, only 8 years old, died April 29, 2016, after a four-year battle with the disease, Naggar said.
He said he saw firsthand how difficult it could be, having to drive long distances for treatment, waiting in a waiting rooms, attending appointments and having to drive back home in traffic on top of dealing with the emotional and financial aspects of the disease.
“I was able to see it firsthand,” he said. “I saw what it did, and I saw how impossible the situation can become.”
“We, early on, made the decision that from an economic development point of view, none of us cared if these new businesses or treatment centers located in Murrieta, or Temecula, or Elsinore or Menifee – it didn’t matter. We just wanted them local and accessible, so people didn’t have to take a half a day off or a whole day off work to go to a doctor’s appointment.”
Each of the cities has contributed funds for the task force’s efforts.
Naggar said that it’s hard to see what the end result of the task force’s efforts will be.
“When you start an effort like this, you never really know how it’s going to wind up,” he said. “Some efforts like this could be a total waste of time; other efforts like this could be phenomenal. You just don’t know what’s going to happen until you just put your boat in the water and start paddling downstream and seeing what occurs from it. And that is not something we can answer today.
“I just think a lot of good is going to come from that all the cities and all the caregivers got together,” he said. “Good is going to come from that.”