Cancer entrepreneur

Lauren Whiting, CEO of Lift Cancer Services standing outside Lift wearing a green top

To better understand the battles faced by people diagnosed with cancer, we spoke to alumna and scholarship recipient Lauren Whiting who is using innovation to revolutionise the support provided to oncology patients.   

A background in physiotherapy, and the Denis Harwood Scholarship to study a Master of Applied Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Adelaide led Lauren to found Lift Cancer Care Services (Lift). Winning the scholarship allowed Lauren to undertake a Masters. Financially she would not have been able to study without the scholarship – because of three young children and needing to earn an income. The opportunity to be part of ThincLab during her studies, and take advantage of mentors and meet other like-minded people from start-up businesses has helped Lauren shape Lift to be the place it is today.

Lift was conceived in 2017 during Lauren’s studies. It’s now in its fifth year of operation, providing cancer patients with evidence based allied health treatments to improve their health outcomes.

“We have brought together the allied health services these patients need in one location,” Lauren said.

Staffed by clinicians with experience in oncology, the patients who come to Lift feel safe as their unique healthcare needs are being looked after.

The individualised services offered at Lift sit underneath the care provided by the patient’s primary Medical Specialists, such their Surgeon or Oncologist, and are designed to support them along the continuum of their cancer experience.

From its inception, Lift has had a very clear vision. Prior to returning to university, a good friend of Lauren’s was diagnosed with breast cancer. Lauren became a close support for her friend and helped her navigate the health care system to find the extra services and support she needed during her treatment. The experience shocked Lauren. Despite her high health literacy and professional knowledge and experience as a Physiotherapist, it was difficult to find the services someone with cancer needed.

Lauren started to draw inspiration from what she was experiencing in both her professional life and in supporting her friend. The concept of a one-stop-shop for support services for cancer patients seemed obvious - one door you could walk through with all the allied health services you need.

Lauren was also becoming more interested in the growing and very compelling body of evidence surrounding exercise in cancer care and wanted to make this exciting treatment available for people like her friend. Lauren resigned from her physiotherapy job in the middle of 2017 and committed to bringing this concept to life. In January 2018, Lift Cancer Care opened its doors at the Tennyson Centre in Kurralta Park, Adelaide.

At Lift, evidence is put into practice in a way the health system has not seen before. In addition to bringing a range of evidence-based services together in one location, Lift offers exercise as a medical treatment.

Over the past 15 years, the body of evidence supporting the benefits of exercise for people with cancer has exploded. The evidence now shows that exercise prescribed at a certain dose to people with cancer has three compelling outcomes:

  • It reduces many common and debilitating side effects that cancer patients experience – this includes cancer related fatigue – something that can last for years and represents a huge quality of life issue, as well a broader economic impact.
  • It reduces the risk of cancer recurrence by up to 35%.
  • It improves overall survival by up to 60%.

The challenge when delivering exercise in parallel to therapies such as chemotherapy, is that it often represents a medical risk to the patient. To address this, Exercise Medicine at Lift is provided by a multi-disciplinary team made up of Medical Practitioners, Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists. The inclusion of an on-site Medical team allows Lift to safely connect patients with Exercise Medicine as a treatment. The Medical Practitioners work with the Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists to assess and monitor these patients before, during and after exercise to ensure it remains, safe, appropriate and evidence based.

Currently, the alternative to the Lift model of care, is that patients miss out on exercise delivered as a treatment, as it is not accessible in any other clinical setting. The other element patients miss out on is a coordinated multidisciplinary approach to their allied health needs.

“If patients don’t come to Lift, they are left to seek out clinicians in the community who are suitably experienced working with oncology patients and this can often too hard for people going through cancer” Lauren said.

“Innovation is disruptive, and disruption is often met with resistance. Despite the challenges, Lift is a business committed to achieving its vision.”

Having validated its model of care from both financial and health outcome perspectives, Lift’s future is looking bright. Through continued strong leadership, a team with aligned values and a shared commitment to succeed, the Lift team looks forward to what is possible.

Lauren aims to embed the Lift model across the country, so all cancer patients have easy access to these important clinical services. This vision is underpinned by strong commitment to make an impact on current healthcare delivery and contribute to improving health outcomes for all Australians.

The University of Adelaide is committed to supporting our researchers, staff, students and alumni to help fight the battle against cancer. With our community's help, we provide funding to the South Australian Immunogenomics Cancer Institute (SAIGENCI). This is an independent cancer-focused medical research institute located in South Australia; focusing on cancer research and clinical trials, which will include new cutting-edge technologies in immunotherapies and genomics.

Story by Kimberley Hoile

Tagged in alumni, scholarship, health