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Published February 19, 2012, 11:30 PM

Fargo oncologist uses social media, technology to keep in touch with patients

FARGO – Dr. Shelby Terstriep’s job is difficult and emotionally demanding. As a medical oncologist at Sanford’s Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo, she values the long-term connection with her patients, but it’s also painful to watch them struggle.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

FARGO – Dr. Shelby Terstriep’s job is difficult and emotionally demanding.

As a medical oncologist at Sanford’s Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo, she values the long-term connection with her patients, but it’s also painful to watch them struggle.

“There are weeks that it’s really hard and there are weeks that are really great,” Terstriep said. “It helps me realize what’s important in life. It helps me try to process what life is all about and with that comes ups and downs, but it can be draining and you have to find outlets for that, too.”

Her outlets are exercise, going to the theater and spending time with her husband, Chad, and their three children, ages 7, 5 and 3.

Terstriep, who lives in Fargo and was born and raised in New Rockford, N.D., works part-time so she can spend more time with her family, but she still manages to keep on top of how social media is changing the ways she can connect with her patients.

“It’s a great way to engage in both professional learning and also keeping a pulse on what’s going on with patients,” she said.

She recently started a Twitter account to let people know what she is reading and what has interested her in the cancer world, she said.

“If there’s a good article, I can forward people legitimate resources quickly,” she said.

In addition to Twitter and Facebook, Terstriep is also on www.healthtap.com, a new interactive network of 9,000 licensed U.S. physicians who will answer health questions anytime, anywhere for free.

Terstriep said Health Tap is a good website for patients to visit if they have health questions between appointments.

“Everybody complains about the bad information that’s out on the web and if we don’t do something about it, there’s never going to be good information out there,” she said.

Terstriep, who has lost loved ones to cancer, also spearheaded the Embrace Survivorship Program three years ago at Sanford. The program provides resources like educational programs, newsletters and social networking opportunities for cancer survivors.

“I’m from a small town so I know there is limited support in small towns,” she said. “We wanted everything we do to have a connection to the rural area, so those who can’t come to the lecture series, we write about that topic in an article.”

During her training, she realized she was learning all about treatments and therapy, but nobody taught her how to deal with all the questions that patients had once therapy was finished – questions like how to deal with hot flashes or how to deal with the nerves that accompany learning somebody else has died of cancer.

“I just felt like that was really an untapped need,” Terstriep said. “There’s more and more out there about survivorship and places are developing survivorship programs to address those questions.”

Terstriep has been a medical oncologist for four and a half years. She decided to pursue a career in oncology for the long-term connection with patients.

“The relationship that you develop over this really scary point in their life is really significant,” she said. “They develop trust for you and you really get to know them and their family and I think that’s what drives us all in this field.”

Terstriep deals primarily with chemotherapy, which said has really advanced over the past ten years.

“By no means is it perfect,” she said. “But it used to be people were in the hospital routinely for side effects from chemotherapy, and now it’s a small population of our patients who are actually hospitalized because of side effects from treatment.”

That’s part of how more cures are possible, she said. Because the side effects can be controlled, more people are able to get the treatment they need, she said.

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