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JA: Two time cancer survivor lends guidance and empathy to others

JA: Two time cancer survivor lends guidance and empathy to others
JA: Two time cancer survivor lends guidance and empathy to others 02:54

SAN FRANCISCO - A two-time breast cancer survivor who takes cancer support to the next level is this week's Bay Area Jefferson Award winner.

Joan Venticinque knows how overwhelming it can be to hear those dreaded words, "You have cancer."

"There's a saying that I heard from someone once that it's like being woken up in the middle of the night, and someone putting a pillow case over your head and throwing you in the trunk of a car and then dumping you in a foreign country, " she said.

Venticinque, also known as Joni, has been there twice.

"My second diagnosis was fraught with a lot of setbacks. I felt I was on this runaway train," she said. "I was having the hardest time finding information so that's what really drives my passion to help patients."

Venticinque is the Volunteer Information Specialist for thesecondopinion, a nonprofit that offers free second opinions for California cancer patients.

She's provided empathy and support to hundreds of patients in the last six years.

Esther Kutnick found out she had early stage breast cancer while her husband was fighting colon cancer.

Venticinque accompanied her to appointments and let Kutnick know of a lesser-known, but time-saving radiation option that allowed her to take her husband to his chemo treatments.

"I don't know how I would have made it through that time without Joni," Kutnick said. "She's a rock, she's very calm. She won't sugar coat things."

Venticinque helps people understand their diagnosis, and can point them to clinical trials. She has access to medical libraries and the most current research.

As a patient advocate, she serves on scientific review committees - the "voice of the patient" in clinical trials and research grant applications.

Dr. Ingrid Oakley-Girvan, Senior Vice President of Medable Clinical Research, said, "One of Joan's superpowers, really, is the ability to put herself in the shoes of the patient and family members and articulate that as far as the research goes."

That superpower comes from connections and compassion.

When we met Kutnick, Venticinque was helping her longtime friend plan her husband's memorial. She says it's an honor coming alongside those who battle cancer.

"As they face their diagnoses and treatment with such willpower and courage and optimism, that it just lifts me even though at times the stories are very hard," Venticinque said.

So for volunteering to help cancer patients with information and support, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Joan Venticinque.


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