Dr. Liudmila Schafer On The 5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Cancer
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Clinical trials are important in developing new treatments and improving overall survival rates. Being involved in a clinical trial is an opportunity to be more active in your own health care, and benefit society and medicine as a whole. For example, the role of circulating tumor DNA in clinical management.
Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. There is so much great information out there, but sometimes it is very difficult to filter out the noise. What causes cancer? Can it be prevented? How do you detect it? What are the odds of survival today? What are the different forms of cancer? What are the best treatments? And what is the best way to support someone impacted by cancer?
In this interview series called, “5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Cancer” we are talking to experts about cancer such as oncologists, researchers, and medical directors to address these questions. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liudmila Schafer, MD.
Liudmila Schafer, MD, FACP, an Associate Professor of Medicine and board-certified Medical Oncologist, specializing in Gastrointestinal malignancies, a founder of The Doctor Connect movement, is helping patients navigate their healthcare journey through cancer, health, and wellness. As a medical trainee and healthcare professional mentor, she laid the groundwork for a physical education curriculum in hematology/oncology. Dr. Schafer serves as principal investigator and co-investigator for clinical trials and holds certification in Translational Research and a teaching scholar in cancer education. www.LiudmilaSchafer.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Growing up on the border of Poland and Belarus, I saw underrepresented populations and healthcare disparities. When I graduated from medical school in Belarus, my first salary was food stamps. The economy was poor, and grocery stores had a minimal stock of most items. The household rationed flour, sugar, and meat, and we had to be very careful to save enough to get through the winters. I worked hard and moved up the ladder, but I just couldn’t see a happy future for my son. Serendipity happened, and I was invited to attend a medical conference in Chicago. All I was interested in was medical knowledge and science; I moved to the US.
It has been studied that foreign women physicians have less mentorship, which leads to people “labeling” you and lack of freedom of enrichment. Now, after being for 26 years as a clinician, going through promotion in academic rank made me an advocate and developed a passion for helping others overcome challenges. This leads toward leadership. I advocate that people don’t let anyone “label” you where you grew up or studied — work toward where you would like to be. Today I advocate for healthcare disparities and create The Doctor Connect movement to bridge the gap and connect all cultures, bridge the gap in the complicated medical world and understand the value of connecting you with your personal values, mind, and body.
This led me to write a book, “Success Strategy,” where I share my guide to harness your personal and professional success.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Going into medicine was a natural choice, and I have wanted to be a doctor since I was a little girl. Later in high school, I decided to study medicine because being a doctor was a combination of science, collaborative learning, giving, teaching, and subsequently, this became my passion for cancer care.
I started looking for people, but there was no direct mentorship. I developed my own “wishful mentor.” I looked up to colleagues around me, read books on leadership, got inspired by real people from the media, and made my best in life. Early on, I realized that there is no single mentor.
This translated later; I had a mentor for medicine and a mentor for leadership. In the past, in the internal medicine residency program, we stayed in the hospital for over 100 hours per week, sometimes staying in the hospital over 35 hours straight. We were called “house officers”. We always found support in the program director to communicate. There has not been one time we would come with a problem to him, and a solution would always be found. That sense of understanding, kindness, strength in that physician who was director of the residency was the best example I had in my early years in training.
Further, becoming an oncologist, I also followed the same path. Later I became more interested in various clinical, academic, and research mentors. I found out that you don’t have to have one mentor; you can have a non-financial sponsor who gives you advice, inspires you, and supports you with advice. Some academic advisors offer you a sense of understanding of where your research or educational interest leads.
This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?
Being an oncologist means we go through the path with the patients, family members, caregivers and develop long-term care, day-to-day issues, ups, and downs. I sit down with the patients and try to understand personal goals and values, present the latest data, give options, and let patients give value on these options — also, communicate with a multidisciplinary team of physicians and other providers where the patient gets the best care. Working with the team is the best satisfaction and quality of care that inspires me daily and continues pursuing my oncology passion.
My motivation continues in increasing medical knowledge that serves as intellectual stimulation. Medical knowledge used to advance every 5–10 years, less than three months — developing new diagnostics, therapeutics, precision medicine. Even right now, advancement in a digital world. We offer it digitally, but how do people get access that doesn’t have television, don’t have computers, live in a rural area. Now I am motivated by advancing the community by elevating people’s knowledge through my television show on the level he plays field of knowledge around health, wellness, medical technology, and cancer and answering the public’s questions on cancers.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
There are so many recourses now, and when someone is diagnosed with cancer, it is challenging for people to find all information in one area. Also, more and more people learn all from the home’s comfort. I created a television show called “ The Doctor Connect “ to help answer cancer, health, and wellness questions and help healthcare professionals position themselves; I made a television show called “The Doctor Connect.” It is a home for open conversations, education, and information around cancer, health, wellness, and medical technology.
My book “Success Strategy” helps people identify time for health and wellness, checkups, and balance the health, professional, and personal time. A few strategies prioritize backward, such as knowing your risk factors and limiting them today, identifying personal S.P. A. When it comes to health, stop, make a calendar for your and other family members at the beginning of the year, act by staying on time for health checkups.
In the deeper roots, we are doing research on evaluating minimal residual disease that could be a new novel biomarker for monitoring disease and identifying sooner if cancer could come back.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of Cancer?
Over 26 years of experience in medicine, treating thousands of cancer patients, being a board-certified physician and fellowship-trained oncologist, doing research, creating curriculum, and teaching healthcare professionals, uniquely positioned me to speak about cancer.
Growing up and starting her career outside the United States, I can relate to health disparities and focus on underrepresented populations through passionate patient care and economically sustainable treatment.
It gives me 360 degrees of understanding diversity in the population. I publish in peer-to-peer journals, present at regional and national conferences, and see patients almost daily. I humbly appreciate the recognition of patients from the premier patient satisfaction survey Circle of Excellence, being a teaching scholar in cancer education. I serve as a medical trainee and healthcare professional mentor. I connect with the community through addressing messages on cancer awareness and prevention.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with some basic definitions so that we are all on the same page. What is exactly cancer?
Cancer is a disease in which cells grow uncontrollably and divide more rapidly than they should. It often starts with one abnormal cell, but quickly becomes many clones of itself as it multiplies at an accelerated rate due to certain mechanisms within our body that allow these clone populations to thrive unchecked by anything outside themselves such as normal healthy tissue. Cancer cells are abnormal, so they tend not only grow at an unchecked rate but also consume any healthy tissue around them for resources which could compromise normal life functions if left unchecked by our bodies natural mechanisms; luckily though there’s hope! These days scientists have found ways of killing these corrupted cell types before it gets out control again. We all make cancer cells, but we have a mechanisms that destroys it.
What causes cancer?
It is well known that smoking and alcohol greatly increase your chances of developing cancer. But it also can lead to lifestyle factors such as limited physical activity like being a desk job, and high body mass may help cause it. Natural exposure such as viruses, such as stomach H pylori or Epstein Barr virus, is responsible for stomach cancer cases. Radiation therapy treatment, sunburns since its UV rays have been linked directly to the development of skin malignancies. As could older age because cell mutation rates tend to go up every year we live. Pollution, occupational exposure to toxins is also a factor — among other things, this may include pesticides or car fumes, while family genetics come into play too!
What is the difference between the different forms of cancer?
Different cancers consist of various cells; all these have unique features but share factors such as acquired or genetic, thus hereditary nature. There are many types of cancer, but their difference lies in their origin. Depend on what tissue they grow from. Depending on the environment, they grow, and type’s difference lies in where it develops. Cancers are formed from cells that have a unique genetic makeup. There’s not just one type of cancer, but many different kinds with varying origins and treatments for each form as well. Some more immune, some faster growing and some slower. For example, cancer cells have different grade, depend how different they look from the normal cells.
I know that the next few questions are huge topics, but we’d love to hear your thoughts regardless. How can cancer be prevented?
The idea of being diagnosed with cancer can be terrifying, and it often leads to people avoiding getting medical attention. Like what you are doing through your magazine, help spread awareness about how diseases spread through conversations and publications. On an individual level, before investing time into treatment plans, educate patients and caregivers by inviting them as speakers at conferences — also providing better nutrition tips info via magazines geared towards these consumers’ needs. Screening for cancers and following guidelines.
Of course, stop smoking and no alcohol, and vaccines prevent cervical cancer and liver cancer. Make a healthy choice with the diet and exercise. We raise public awareness through The Doctor Connect movement with education and sharing stories. By inviting patients and caregivers to attend medical conferences. Make a healthy choice with the diet and exercise. Knowing the family history and doing early screening is very important in preventive measures.
How can one detect the main forms of cancer?
There are many ways to detect cancer, such as screening, such as physical exams, weight loss, or new blood in the stool or any unusual changes in the body. There are tests like CT scans, can help you find the type of disease before it’s too late for treatment options; however, these screenings come at a cost that some people may not be able to afford. Also, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) requires expensive machinery to produce images so high quality they will show up clearly even when compared side by side- this was invented because doctors needed better imagery. Biopsy techniques allow specialists like pathologists to study tissue samples removed during operation through microscopic examination. Tissue samples were done with special “stains” that help identify the origin of the tumor.
Cancer used to almost be a death sentence, but it seems that it has changed today. What are the odds of surviving cancer today?
The odds of surviving cancer today are better than ever before. For the past 50 years, there has been an increase in overall survival thanks to all advances made against this deadly disease. According to AARC’s report, for the past 50 years, because of all advances in cancer, the overall survival in cancer has grown from 3 million in 1971 to 16.9 million in 2019.
Can you share some of the new cutting-edge treatments for cancer that have recently emerged? What new cancer treatment innovations are you most excited to see come to fruition in the near future?
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy exciting new form of treatment for some patients to get immune cells called T cells, a type of white blood cell, to fight cancer by changing them in the laboratory. Person’s own immune cells are genetically modified to express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) designed and engineered specifically to recognize the target to fight tumor cells. Antibody are molecules that are immune system creates in response to antigen, which can be found on the surface of cancer cells. Researchers have developed “magic bullets” made from this same type of antibodies for fighting tumors and even getting rid of molecules. Lesson basis surgery available. Very targeted radiation specifically to that side of cancer with limited damage nearby cells. Micro invasive surgery helps with less mobility and faster recovery after surgery. Robotic surgery for pancreatic cancer, for example, is on the rise. Immunotherapy activates your immune system that fights cancer cells. Target the treatment that works on small molecules inside the cancer cells and kills it.
Healing usually takes place between doctor visits. What have you found to be most beneficial to assist a patient to heal?
A person’s need may vary depending on their situation. If they are undergoing treatment and need someone else with them during the process, it could be helpful to arrange appointments incardinate with people who could take time off, and the schedule could be lined up. No schedule in advance and to arrange commitments. There will also come times when friends ask her to help around the home, offer groceries it’s to settle down. Support through the cancer awareness organization. Attend medical conferences. Search for an online course for a roadmap upon cancer diagnosis, learn behind the scenes and prepare for a doctor’s appointment. Share information in the pictures, easily understandable material. Search help searches for clinical trials. All of this will be time-saving for the patient.
From your experience, what are a few of the best ways to support a loved one, friend, or colleague who is impacted by cancer?
One of the best ways to support someone who is impacted by cancer is through group activities. You can organize events like walks and volunteer opportunities for those within your network, which will provide them with emotional and physical relief from their experience while also providing strength. Share what’s going on at home or work versus feeling isolated all alone during this difficult time period coming together with other people who are going through the same thing. When you’re surrounded by encouragement, it helps make whatever challenges life throws our way seem less daunting. Now we can organize virtual tea, virtual yoga, breathing activity, theatre, reading, and be so creative in many ways.
To organize support groups for those dealing not only with cancer themselves but also assisting them, such as their family members and friends. These events help provide moral guidance while building inner strength during difficult times that last long after an individual has been affected by cancer.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
Suddenly starting to exercise intensely could also cause further complications — like cancer becoming more complex and exhausting for you in general without warning signs during treatment or even beforehand; but with this newly acquired changes of what’s happening inside your body after switching up nutrition habits came along new information on how exactly these things work together. When someone suddenly change our diet, it can trigger symptoms that we were not previously an issue. Suddenly starting to take new vitamins, new supplements based on the information written without verifying with the doctor, also can cause additional side effect. It is not true that sugar causes cancer. We need the sugar for very vital organs such as brain and heart.
Thank you so much for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what are your “5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Clinical trials are important in developing new treatments and improving overall survival rates. Being involved in a clinical trial is an opportunity to be more active in your own health care, and benefit society and medicine as a whole. For example, the role of circulating tumor DNA in clinical management.
2. Herbs and Supplements can act as a “drug” and can increase or decrease the efficacy of cancer treatments. Administration of folic acid in large doses, like those available in supplements, can cause increased toxicity in patients receiving 5-fluorouracil based chemotherapy.
3. There is a difference between stage vs. grade in cancer. The stage is how far cancer spreads to the distant organs. For example, although colon cancer can travel to the liver, it is not liver cancer. Most cancers have stages I through IV. Whereas the grade refers to how different cancer cells look from normal cells. Do they look like normal cells? Or are they moderately differentiated or poorly differentiated compared to the normal cell?
4. Immunotherapy versus chemotherapy. One activates the immune system and immune cells that act against cancer cells. Chemotherapy suppresses the immune system while acting to kill cancer cells.
5. Molecular tests help address cancer health disparities and need to be better understood and implemented. Selecting personalized treatment based on genetic and genomic data is an important option to know.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Brian Tracy creates an atmosphere and shares his knowledge and expertise with a wide number of people on how to achieve success, productivity demonstrated by Brian Tracy. Growing up and starting my career outside of the United States, I can relate to my personal and professional inspiring journey and empower people with strategic knowledge of personal enrichment, leadership growth, and lifestyle modifications.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please contact me at www.LiudmilaSchafer.com or https://thedoctorconnect.org/ share your reflections on this topic. I would love to hear from you!
Thank you so much for these insights! This was very inspirational and we wish you continued success in your great work.
About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified wellness coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), stage 3 cancer survivor, podcaster, writer, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.
Savio pens a weekly newsletter at thehumanresolve.com where he delves into secrets from living smarter to feeding your “three brains” — head 🧠, heart 💓, and gut 🤰 — in hopes of connecting the dots to those sticky parts in our nature that matter.
He has been featured on Fox News, and has collaborated with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, Food Network, WW, and Bloomberg. His mission is to offer clients, listeners, and viewers alike tangible takeaways in living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.
Savio lives in the suburbs of Westchester County, New York and continues to follow his boundless curiosity. He hopes to one day live out a childhood fantasy and explore outer space.