Colleague Q&As

Colleague Q&A: Compassionate Care Delivering a Lifetime of Hope for
Cancer Patients

May 14, 2024

Oklahoma native, Melissa James, PA-C, has pursued her medical career from coast to coast. She received her bachelor’s degree in biology (and a minor in music) from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California, before earning her master’s in Physician Assistant Studies at Nova Southeastern University in Orlando, Florida.

After moving to Denver, Colorado, she found her true calling — cancer survivorship. Today, the 43-year-old mother of two is the director of Survivorship at Colorado Gynecologic Oncology Specialists – a role she’s held since 2016 – on the Sky Ridge Medical Center campus in Denver, where she works with her husband, Dr. Jeffrey James.

Three years ago, she was also brought on board at HealthONE’s Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute to initiate and develop their survivorship program.

Q: What first drew you to medicine?

A: The combination of the science and people. I love people. I’m fascinated by science. And what better way to combine the two and make lives better than medicine?

Q: What attracted you to oncology specifically?

A: The ability to help cancer patients truly improve their lives. To sit down and be able to have meaningful conversations about what’s really important in life. To come along beside them on what can often be a difficult journey and really improve and enrich their lives.

Q: What is survivorship?

A: It’s simply living your best life. Specifically, living one’s best life with, through and beyond cancer. Comprehensive, quality care throughout the cancer continuum.

Q: How did the Colorado Center of Gynecologic Oncology survivorship program start?

A: When the original surgeon brought me in, he said, “I want you to build a survivorship program.” I had never even heard of the word “survivorship.” Now I know that survivorship programs are usually only found at large cancer institutions or university hospitals. But we want our patients — even in private practice — to have that same level of cancer care. That quality, holistic care. So, we really built the program from scratch.

Q: The Colorado Center for Gynecologic Oncology later merged with HCA Healthcare, correct?

A: They wanted to keep the survivorship program growing. The different facilities throughout the division have their own cancer accreditation, so we were all doing it separately. Then somebody had the idea of all coming together and getting one accreditation for all our facilities. Part of those cancer commission standards is having a survivorship program.

Q: What are some of the elements of survivorship that aren’t widely known?

A: My caveat is, everyone’s cancer journey is different. So, their survivorship is individualized as well and is based upon that patient’s specific needs. But the big components we usually cover are the transition from active treatment into surveillance, signs of recurrence, and the survivorship plan moving forward. We discuss wellness and preventive health, including nutrition, exercise, and screenings for secondary cancers. Finally, we look at how cancer has affected the rest of their life, including psychosocial health, fatigue, sleep, cognitive function, sexual health, etc. Good survivorship covers a lot!

It’s more of a ministry than a vocation. To be able to sit down with patients, one-on-one, without a time crunch and have meaningful life-altering conversations with them is one of the biggest blessings of my life and my career.

— Melissa James, PA-C,director of Survivorship at Colorado Gynecologic Oncology Specialists

Q: How do you approach your job day to day?

A: Before every visit, my quick prayer is, “Give me eyes to see what I need see, ears to hear what I need to hear, and the ability to draw upon the knowledge and skills you’ve given me to best care for this patient. Show me what her needs are where she is on her journey right now.”

Q: How do you gauge success?

A: I want to know how much we’re actually changing patients’ lives. When we started earlier on in private practice, I sent out surveys to my patients and asked them, “Was your survivorship visit beneficial? Would you recommend it? Was it worth your time?” I take their feedback very seriously.

Q: How has HCA Healthcare enabled you to accomplish your goals?

A: Working with the Sarah Cannon at HealthONE has allowed me to increase the breadth of care of cancer patients, meaning we’re able to impact even more patients and their families and caregivers. The scope has increased dramatically. Yet HCA Healthcare has also allowed me to keep the personal touch of impacting patients on a one-on-one level. It’s the best of both worlds.

Q: What’s on the horizon?

A: Growth, continual improvement. Not only improving the services that we have now, making them better and more applicable to our patients, but adding more services, including patient educational videos for social media and increasing survivorship support groups and webinars.

Q: Is it rewarding work?

A: I love it. It doesn’t feel like work. It’s more of a ministry than a vocation. To be able to sit down with patients, one-on-one, without a time crunch and have meaningful life-altering conversations with them is one of the biggest blessings of my life and my career.