By Nikki Campagna, FNP-BC, DNP

In June 2021, I was at a crossroads in my career. I had been an oncology nurse practitioner for the past 14 years, and it was time to decide if I should retire as a provider. Yet I felt like I still had more to do and more patients to help. I was determined to make a difference for patients with cancer.

My focus was on gastrointestinal cancers in recent years, and that came to a point when my brother-in-law Tony was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February 2014. When I heard of his diagnosis, I knew what his journey would be like and what was in store for him and our family. Tony passed away that November, and I threw myself into volunteering with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) and its Nevada affiliates.

At work, I referred every patient with pancreatic cancer and their families to PanCAN to help give them a better quality of life and improve their cancer outcome. My eventual decision to retire as an oncology nurse practitioner was easier because of PanCAN—I was able to follow my passion and make a difference for patients when I ultimately took a staff position as a PanCAN patient services case manager.

As a case manager, I facilitate participation in PanCAN’s research initiatives, as appropriate, including its Know Your Tumor precision medicine service, Clinical Trial Finder, and patient registry. I also provide patients and their families with in-depth and complex information about pancreatic cancer in a simple and understandable manner.

Every patient is different, and we recommend that all patients with pancreatic cancer get genetic testing for inherited variants and biomarker testing of their tumor tissue to help determine the best treatment options as soon as possible after diagnosis. Knowing the variants in your tumor and the ones that you were born with may help you and your healthcare team select treatment options, including clinical trials, that are likely to work best for you and may not have been considered otherwise.

Because of generous philanthropic funding, PanCAN’s services are free of charge and available in both English and Spanish. We also have resources for healthcare professionals, including access to free educational materials for patients and families.

I find my work with PanCAN very meaningful in my retirement because I am keeping my brother-in-law’s legacy alive while making an impact on patients and their loved ones. It’s fulfilling to be part of the PanCAN family and use the education and experience I worked so hard to build.

Our support empowers healthcare professionals and patients alike in their treatment decision-making and confidence about biomarkers and what testing results can explain. As oncology nurses, we need to educate our patients and community about the power of biomarker testing.

Two people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer could have very different cancer biology, and that is where biomarker testing can help us provide the best outcomes.