A two-year collaboration between Anderson University and local community stakeholders is creating a better understanding of what cancer looks like in Anderson County. The research authors hope that their work can provide hope for cancer patients and caregivers.
The research, a collaboration between the Anderson University Center for Cancer Research (AU CCR) and the Cancer Association of Anderson (CAA), with the support of Anderson University Professional and Lifelong Learning (AU PLL), was recently published in GSC Advanced Research and Reviews.
Heading the project was Angela Stringer, Executive Director of the Cancer Association of Anderson; Dr. Diana Ivankovic, Director of the Anderson University Center for Cancer Research; and Andria Carpenter, Director of Anderson University Professional and Lifelong Learning.
In addition to the academic and community organizations represented in the collaboration, undergraduate and graduate students from AU and two other Upstate higher ed institutions, as well as two high school students, participated in the research and data collection.
“It is an excellent picture of building community relationships and breaking down barriers to learning,” Carpenter said. Daniel High School student Laura Ivankovic enjoyed her participation in the project and has since committed to Anderson University, beginning fall 2022.
Dr. Ivankovic, Stringer, and Carpenter all agree that working on this research bonded them together in a shared mission of helping Anderson County cancer patients and their caregivers. Dr. Ivankovic quips, “The lady from South Carolina, the lady from Oklahoma, and the lady from Croatia came together to create something beautiful.”
“The beauty of the collaboration is that in addition to a long-time professional friendship, we bring survivor and caregiver life experience to the work,” Carpenter said, adding that their Christian faith has added an important spiritual dimension to their work.
Early in 2018, Stringer needed help moving data from paper storage to a new server, donated by Zero Day Technology Solutions and Senior Solutions Architect Carey Cole. This move ensured more accurate and convenient data access for grant writing and annual reports to the board and community at large. A group of Dr. Ivankovic’s students volunteered to assist in the data input and quickly accomplished this objective.
At CAA’s 2020 annual Girlfriend’s Tea, a recent Anderson University student who assisted with the data input, expressed appreciation for being included in this project. This current MUSC medical student shared that his future research was permanently affected by seeing these cancer patients as living human beings instead of analytical data. Once the data, consisting of cancer type, cancer incidence location and other vital factors, was consolidated into the database, it became clear that there was a much deeper meaning.
First, Abi Roberts, an Environmental Engineering student at another Upstate higher ed institution, broke down the residential locations of CAA clients receiving services within Anderson County while maintaining an aggregate view of the same material. Next, she transferred the information to a geographic information software system, allowing her to plot the data on a map of Anderson County. The resulting map provided a clear picture of cancer incidence in Anderson County, based on services provided by the CAA.
Stringer states, “While this is not a comprehensive reporting of all cancer patients in Anderson County, it does represent the patients served by the Association. In addition, it provides pertinent, initial data that demonstrates to local health officials and the public the need to utilize this mapping technology to further the research.”
CAA surveyed clients regarding their experience and interest in integrative therapies they would like to see offered through the Association. Anderson University students recorded their responses, which provided a snapshot of community needs, therapies available, and most accepted and desired therapies.
During the Spring 2021 semester, Anderson University Professional and Lifelong Learning offered participants a Cancer Research and Local Support Services course. Course participants met at the CAA and the AU CCR, located in Anderson, South Carolina. They learned about how cancer research is performed and about future research possibilities. Course participants also learned about the involvement of traditional academic students and the ways AU CCR impacts their learning and choices for future academic paths and professional careers.
In an end-of-course survey, one course participant, also a CAA client, commented, “It may be too late for me, but knowing that this kind of collaborative work is going on right here in Anderson gives me great hope for the future of the community I love so much!”
Dr. Ivankovic, Stringer, and Carpenter would like to reach out to medical facilities including AnMed Health, Prisma Health, and Bon Secours Health System to expand future research projects to surrounding counties.
“The success of this bench research highlights the collaborative efforts of multiple organizations and individuals who are more concerned about possibilities, results, and building community relationships that provide access to services and learning than they are about who receives credit for the work,” Carpenter said.
Since the inception of this project, Dr. Ivankovic and Carpenter have joined CAA’s Executive Board. They are proud that the organization is funded entirely by the local community, grants, and annual CAA events such as the Hot Air Fair: Rising Above Cancer Balloon Event, Concert of Hope and Remembrance, and the Girlfriend’s Tea. CAA does not receive funding from any national cancer organizations.
“I like to refer to the CAA as the boots on the ground. What a privilege to be some of the first friends to offer our clients physical, emotional, and financial support when they need it most,” Stringer said.
The CAA motto, ‘Lessening the burden on Anderson County residents who are battling cancer.’ aligns with a beautiful scriptural passage found in 2 Corinthians that reads, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Cor. 1:3)
This message of comfort and hope is the reason the Cancer Association of Anderson exists. It underscores the purpose for the research of Anderson University Center for Cancer Research, and fulfills the mission of Anderson University Professional and Lifelong Learning to provide a platform for disseminating important research and learning throughout our community.