Cancer fighters

UGA grads partner to lead Georgia CORE

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Cancer fighters

Nancy Paris and Angie Patterson

Angie Patterson didn’t just celebrate being a breast cancer survivor. She brought her experiences as a patient and as a corporate manager to Georgia CORE (Center for Oncology Research and Education), which turns 10 this year.

“It completely shaped everything that I knew I wanted to do,” says Patterson (AB ’78), director of Georgia CORE, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2001. “It changed my whole life to give me an opportunity to actually have a job where you follow your passion.”

Relying on her computer science background and 17 years with BellSouth, she began to work with Georgia CORE Chief Executive Officer and President Nancy Paris (AB ’75) to develop innovative ways to support and to show compassion for patients and their families, and to help them make the best decisions about treatment.

A website—GeorgiaCancerInfo.org—includes information on more than 790 oncologists, 595 clinical trials and 285 cancer treatment sites in Georgia. Another CORE-supported effort, the Cancer Patient Navigators of Georgia, connects and educates the 300 navigators who guide cancer patients through their care and help eliminate barriers to treatment, working with the Georgia Society of Clinical Oncology.

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in Georgia. Georgia CORE is working to unite the state’s cancer community—clinicians, scientists, educators, research professionals and those affected by cancer—to increase access to clinical trials, discover more effective treatments and improve the quality of care. The organization reported a 65 percent increase in Georgia-based clinical trials from 2009 to 2012.

“Through Georgia CORE, people can come together and work together. It’s kind of a free zone,” Paris says. “We don’t really think there’s anything else like this in the nation.”

In fact, Paris says, people from other states have asked for Georgia CORE’s model. The independent organization was created with funds the state received from a court settlement with tobacco companies and has an annual $3 million budget. In 2013, $275,000 came from state funds. Funding also comes from government grants, clinical trials contracts and revenue, foundation grants and scholarships, corporate sponsors (such as Aflac) and private donors.

Georgia CORE’s research network—recognized by the National Cancer Institute—includes 24 oncology practices (nine out of 10 oncologists in the state), competing hospitals and academic centers providing care to two-thirds of all new cancer cases in the state.

Patterson and Paris took different paths to Georgia CORE and were three years apart at UGA. Patterson studied computer science, while Paris majored in sociology and served as president of Saint Joseph’s Mercy Care Services and vice president of the Georgia Baptist Health Care System prior to joining Georgia CORE.

They are confident they have more accomplishments ahead in the organization’s second decade, as they seek to use more technology, research and therapies and treatments to elevate the quality of cancer care.

“We’ve created something with a small amount of state funding,” Patterson says. “We still have big dreams.”

—Lori Johnston is a writer living in Watkinsville.