How I Help Cancer Patients Receive Care in their own Home

By Julie Adams

I describe myself as a bit of a boho-bogan, a socialised introvert, and a believer in kindness. I believe my main purpose in life is to add value to other people’s lives; to leave them a little better for having known me. Realising the potential and need for home-based chemotherapy stemmed from watching my Dad die, back in 1994. He had emphysema, a lung disease caused by smoking, which resulted in him getting repeated chest infections during the last few years of his life. There was no such thing as home antibiotic therapy back then, but I was lucky enough to work in a hospital as a pharmacist and the nursing staff taught me to do his antibiotics so we could take him home for Christmas. My area of expertise was in cancer medicine, so I took this experience and used it to passionately research ways to treat patients undergoing chemotherapy in their own homes. In 2000, I established (and went on to manage for 12 years) a small home chemotherapy service at Royal Perth Hospital. From these humble beginnings, I knew there was a crying need for home-based chemotherapy. Having gained experience in this highly specialised area, I started wondering why we couldn’t treat more patients at home. This led me to leave the hospital system in 2013 to make chemo@home a reality. As chemo@home’s Founder and Managing Director I have developed our vision and inspired and enabled our team to bring it to life. I feel so fortunate that several of my starting team chose to leave the security of their previous roles to join me at chemo@home. I am incredibly humbled that they had the confidence to follow me and that they believed in me and our business potential. I am honoured to work in cancer services, with patients and families at such a vulnerable time in their lives. The diagnosis of cancer can be devastating. Lives are transformed into a whirlwind of medical tests, endless appointments and the maze-like system of hospitals and health care. It places strain on relationships, finances and can be all consuming. It is unforgiving to the elderly who don’t drive, to parents who can’t work or care for their families, to indigenous and culturally diverse patients who want their extended families around them, to disabled people who are distressed by unfamiliar environments and to teenagers who don’t want to be treated like they are sick. I have treated an intellectually disabled young man with leukaemia at home, who when in hospital needed heavy sedation and a patient “guard” as he was difficult to manage in unfamiliar environments. At home with his parents, he was a delight and, importantly, able to receive all his planned chemotherapy. Another patient with dementia was considered too difficult to treat in hospital, however at home with her husband she was comfortable and content. A mother, who worked night duty, managed to continue working whilst her terminally ill 18-year-old son received chemotherapy for a brain tumour; laying down and napping on the bed next to him whilst he received his treatment at home, something which would have been impossible in a hospital day-unit. There was no precedent for our model of health care delivery from either a clinical or business perspective, so I have needed to innovate, negotiate, collaborate and problem solve. As a result of developing a deep understanding of the requirements and also potential roadblocks, I have been able to work with and within the complexities of legislation and regulations, accreditation, Medicare, private health insurance, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and activity-based funding to successfully negotiate for remuneration of our health service. In establishing chemo@home, I had limited financial resources to draw on, so I had to be strategic. I sought a business partner whom I knew and trusted, who brought skills to the company that would complement mine. Together, my business partner, Lorna Cook, and I raised the capital to fund the start-up. Lorna is the Yin to my Yang: an extrovert who entertains everyone she meets. She is also behind the success of chemo@home’s marketing strategy. Our strong business partnership is the foundation for the amazing achievements of chemo@home, which has seen us win nine business awards in the last year, including a Telstra Business Women’s Award. An incredible accomplishment, we think, for a health service which has been operating for less than 4 years.

I devote a lot of time to working with health-related organisations such as the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia and the Leukaemia Foundation as well as speaking as an invited guest at educational events. I do this because I feel it is vital to raise up future health professionals and leaders. Last year, after some family pressures, I unfortunately had to temporarily (at least I hope it is temporary) withdraw from my PhD. My research is aimed to assist those cancer patients in the community who require oral chemotherapy; that is chemotherapy taken in tablet/capsule form. I am also a single mum and incredibly proud of my three children. Sharni, 24, who shows amazing determination; Harrison, 22, who is supportive and emotionally intelligent and Molly, 17, who is incredibly strong and empathetic. Away from work I love to dabble in construction and designed and built my own environmentally friendly house. I love getting away from the city and try to regularly go camping. I find camping and being by the ocean very therapeutic. I can also frequently be found on a stand-up paddleboard practicing yoga; a new type of yoga practice for me, but so much fun. My values permeate all aspects of my life. I value authenticity, courage and respectful intellectual debate. For as long as I can remember, I’ve challenged the status quo, if I thought it was needed. I therefore admire people who dare to think differently, and encourage my team, family and others to share their opinions, insights and ideas for the benefit of all. To work with me is to believe; to share my passion and desire to make a difference, and to then make it happen. Being named 2016 Telstra Western Australian Business Women of the Year has been an affirming experience that has enhanced our reputation, opened many doors and strengthened our financial position. I think celebrating women’s successes helps to change societal opinions around the quantity and quality of women’s achievements. It is important for women to be proud and speak about all that they have achieved, both at home and in their careers, I encourage other WA business women to enter to be recognised for their achievements. Nominate yourself or another business woman, here: https://www.telstrabusinesswomensawards.com/nominate Entries close 15th June.

Author: Julie Adams graduated from Curtin University in WA with a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree in 1986. She went on to complete her Post Graduate Diploma in Hospital Pharmacy in 1995, and in 1999 she successfully obtained Board Certification in Oncology Pharmacy (US). Julie has worked in the area of oncology and haematology for over 25 years. In 2013 she started her own health service, chemo@home, which administers chemotherapy to cancer patients and immunomodulating therapy to patients with chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.  chemo@home has won numerous business awards for its innovation and disruption of the health service sector, with Julie being awarded the 2016 Telstra WA Business Woman of the Year and Entrepreneur Award.  http://www.chemoathome.com.au  

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