Q&A with Vanessa Blanco

How did you get involved in the mesothelioma community?

I have always had an interest in our health care system. In the last semesters of my graduate degree, my program started a focus on patient advocacy. I have had several family members diagnosed with cancer, and I knew I wanted to be involved with helping cancer patients and caregivers.

I also had a younger sister who suffered from asthma and passed away in 2009 at the age of 21. After her passing, I became an advocate for the American Lung Association in Orlando. I spoke about asthma at different events and worked to expand the American Lung Association’s educational programs.

In 2010, I sought an oncology patient advocacy position. Luckily, I found a place in the mesothelioma community that allows me to help patients and families.

How does your personal and professional experience inform the work you do?

Personally, I have experienced how overwhelming and scary a cancer diagnosis can be. I have been present for the discussion of treatment and have even accompanied family members to chemotherapy sessions. I have sat through the long hours of surgery and felt how terrifying it is.

I have experienced all the feelings our caregivers experience. And I have watched loved ones fight for their lives day after day.

When I speak to mesothelioma patients and their families, I think about how my loved ones and I felt during my own family’s cancer battles. I try to answer the questions I had back then and provide the assistance that I wish my family had received.

Professionally, after eight years of assisting mesothelioma patients and their caregivers, I know what medical, financial and emotional resources they need.

I am also certified as an Oncology Patient Navigator through the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators. Attending their conferences has allowed me to keep up to date with all the resources available to mesothelioma patients.

Most patients and families don’t know what to expect after receiving the biopsy results that confirm mesothelioma or lung cancer. For most, this is their first experience with a cancer diagnosis.

Cancer is treated with a multidisciplinary team approach. This is very effective but overwhelming and confusing for the patient. I always try to let patients and caregivers know what to expect and provide the information they need.

There are so many patient-assistance resources available to mesothelioma patients that most families are not aware of. It’s not information easily accessible online or at their treatment center.

I strongly believe knowledge is power. This journey can become manageable if patients and caregivers fully understand their diagnosis, treatment options and the resources available to them.

What is the most important guidance you can give to families facing mesothelioma?

Accept all the help you can get. This journey should not be traveled alone. Look into all patient-assistance resources available — they are there to make this journey a little bit more manageable.