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A conversation with the president and CEO of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Candace Johnson

Posted at 5:56 PM, Jul 20, 2022

Hope…It is a powerful word and stepping in with us this morning is the woman who has been helping Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center deliver more than just hope every minute of the day, president and CEO of Roswell, Dr. Candace Johnson.

Dr. Johnson says, “In my whole career, I wanted to do something that helped patients. You can study science for science but I wanted to apply this and what better way than cancer because cancer is an area where we have a lot of work to do, but we can still give a lot of help to people; hope is important.”

Mercedes shares that she is a breast cancer survivor and that she was diagnosed at the age of 28. Mercedes says, “At Roswell it starts when you walk in the door, talking about hope. It starts with the teams your assigned, it starts with the care you receive, with bedside. I know you have a ton of history with how you treat people and there is so much when you talk about hope and cancer.”

Dr. Johnson says, “All of us here have been touched by cancer whether directly or indirectly and when you hear those words, you have cancer or your loved one has cancer, you kind of zone out and you’re not listening and you’re thinking perhaps the worst situation, so what we try to do at Roswell when you walk in there we try to like give you a hug. It’s a beautiful place, there is music playing. We try to have people to help you to get to your appointment and help you navigate through all of this and COVID has been tough on this whole process because there have been restrictions. She says you can’t bring your whole family with you for your appointment because of the COVID rules. And then during COVID people weren’t going to the doctor and getting screened so we are seeing more advanced cancers presenting as a result, and that’s why it is so important in our communities to get screened, and we do more to try to detect this disease early.”

Roswell Park is also out in the community. Dr. Johnson says, “ I’d like to think that we’ve really, over the past five or six years we really changed who we are; we are not just this institution that sits there like an ivory tower. We are in the community, because everybody has to have access to Roswell, every person in Buffalo and we are a very diverse population. We have an incredible African-American community, we have a large Latino and Hispanic community and we have the Indigenous population and we have a whole Indigenous cancer research effort where we are trying to help them get the screenings they need. And, we have a refugee population here and luckily, we live in a city where we accept individuals from all over the world. They have unique cancer risks and problems, so we really reach out to all these communities to help them have access to Roswell Park.”

Dr. Johnson says to go to your primary doctor, get screened, do all the things you need to do because early detection saves lives.

At Roswell when you finish your cancer treatment and therapy, they have two bells. A big bell and a little bell for pediatric patients. Dr. Johnson says you ring the bell, and it is right out in the lobby, and it is an open atrium there, you can hear it everywhere. She says, “No matter where you are, when you hear that bell, you’re smiling on the inside and maybe a little tear in your eye because you know somebody has made it.”

Dr. Johnson says, “You can survive this disease, you know we aren’t there with all cancers, but we’ve made such advances over the past few years. As a national cancer institute, designated cancer center we not only have the things nobody else has, that our scientists and our physicians develop, but when you come to a NCI designated center, if some other center has something we don’t have, we will help you get there and refer you to that or sometimes that particular treatment can be delivered here in Western New York so you have access to everything that is going on, all the cutting edge. So, to have that in Buffalo is a wonderful thing.”

For more information, go to roswellpark.org