News from Illinois CancerCare

A Day in the Life of… A Clinical Research Coordinator

Caring for our patients with cancer is truly a team effort, with each person having a unique role to fill. One of those people is Ashton Todd, who has been with Illinois CancerCare for nearly a decade and currently holds the position of Lead Research Educator heading up the group of clinical research coordinators (CRCs).

She is one of the people who spend their days contributing to the important research being done to develop new and better treatments, improved symptom and side effect management, and potential cures for some types of cancer.

In fact, many of the treatments and symptom improvement resources we have today didn’t exist years ago but are now available thanks to patient participation in clinical trials.

For Ashton, each day in clinical research is unique, but the priority is always putting patients first.

“In every aspect of my job, I am dedicated to providing complete transparency and open communication with patients and their families,”

She believes cancer research will help them in their current journey, while also making a long-term impact on the cancer community as treatment options continue to improve

Screening and Recruiting

About a quarter of Ashton’s time each week is focused on screening and recruiting patients for open clinical trials. This screening process involves going through documentation for patients that will be coming in to see their provider at Illinois CancerCare in the next few days, either for a first visit or those who are coming in with results from treatment-deciding tests like scans or biopsies.

“Although many people believe that cancer research is focused only on curing cancer, there are also clinical trials that address concerns like reducing chemo-related nausea or minimizing hair loss,” Ashton elaborates. “In addition to providing patients with the best possible treatment options, we also want to improve their quality of life during and after treatment.”

All clinical trials have strict protocols and oversight to ensure patients are treated ethically and fairly. When Ashton reviews records to determine if a patient may be eligible for a clinical trial, she’s also looking at any factors that may exclude them, such as their age, previous treatments they’ve tried, specific health conditions, or other important medical details.

Ashton and the Illinois CancerCare research team aid the physicians in ensuring every possible treatment option is made available for their patients. It’s a common misconception that clinical trials are only for those who don’t have any other options The reality is that research studies are looking at improving treatment options throughout the patient’s cancer journey, starting with their first treatment through survivorship.

Patient Relationships

If there is a clinical trial that aligns with a patient’s type of cancer and other pertinent medical factors, Ashton will discuss the study with the physician to determine if it’s an appropriate option to share with the patient. Spending time with patients is her favorite part of the job.

Before making any commitment to a clinical trial, Ashton will review the study with the patient in great detail and with full transparency. This is the beginning of informed consent, which will continue with ongoing communication throughout the clinical trial.

The National Cancer Institute describes informed consent as “a process through which you learn details about the trial before deciding whether to take part. This process includes learning about the trial’s purpose and possible risks and benefits.”

Patients are encouraged to include a family member or friend during these conversations since it’s often helpful to have an extra set of ears. Clinical research coordinators like Ashton provide everything needed to make an informed decision about what can be expected from participating in a clinical trial. Patients are encouraged to ask questions until they fully understand and feel comfortable with the study protocols.

It is always 100% a patient’s choice whether or not to participate in a clinical trial. The patient also has the right to stop participation at any time.

Ashton maintains a relationship with her patients through the entirety of the clinical trial. She wants patients and their families to feel as though Illinois CancerCare is a safe place where she will be their advocate.

Illinois CancerCare never wants money or other minor obstacles to stand in the way of a patient’s health. In most cases participating in a clinical trial will not incur any extra expenses. The study sponsor generally covers any extra costs (and some even reimburse for transportation), but the patient may be responsible for co-pays or other bills for scans or tests that would be required even if they were not a part of the clinical trial. The Illinois CancerCare Foundation has numerous programs to help patients with financial challenges, access to clinical trials and other support services.  All donations to the Illinois CancerCare Foundation stay in central and western Illinois to serve our local cancer patients.

Data and Administrative

Ashton says that spending time with patients is her favorite part of the job, but the data is what drives researchers to find a solution. This aspect of her job includes a variety of administrative tasks such as entering valuable data from trial participants.

Since nothing is done without a patient’s signed consent, a lot of follow up activity starts behind the scenes. Ashton checks with insurance companies, coordinates labs, scans and others tests, verifies eligibility to make sure it’s safe to take the investigational drug (or other action being researched), and handles other important details.

“We do our best to expedite this part of the process,” Ashton says. “It varies based on the trial, insurance provider, and other factors, but our goal is to make it as convenient and fast as possible for the patient.”

Her Passion Project

“I chose this career because I want to help people.  I want to do my part to find new treatments for cancer and improve the quality of life for patients,” Ashton states.

In her role at Illinois CancerCare, Ashton truly wants to make sure the patients she works with have the best possible experience throughout their journey. It is a testament to her personal connection that many of her patients say that they’ll miss spending time with her when the clinical trial is completed.

Fortunately, many  patients are now benefitting from previous clinical research that created access to treatments and quality-of-life resources that didn’t exist a decade ago. That’s why Illinois CancerCare is completely committed to research that delivers solutions for today and hope for tomorrow.