We speak to Stefania Vallone, Board member, Women Against Lung Cancer in Europe (WALCE), Italy
What led you to work in the field of lung cancer?
My experience as a patient advocate began by chance in 2007, when I met an oncologist who gave me the opportunity to become more familiar with the thoracic oncology field. I was also motivated to become more engaged in this area by the many challenges within lung cancer at that time. There was no screening, and few survivors or treatments, as well as very low public support and media coverage, with increased stigma!
My first interest was in primary prevention, because smoking addiction is still a big issue in Italy, especially among young people. Over the years I have worked with other advocates in Italy and abroad, to generate more awareness about lung cancer and help people take a more active role in their own care. I have also spent time implementing services and programmes to help people with lung cancer address their needs. It has been fascinating to observe the first research results and witness the evolution that has taken place in lung cancer. This progress is what gives motivates me to continue working as a patient advocate.
What does an average workday look like for you?
My working days always start with a good Italian coffee and a chat with my colleague.
My role is helping people who come to WALCE for support, and raising awareness for lung cancer. When I work in the office, I get calls or messages from people who need a transport service, to contact a nutritionist or other specialists, or information on WALCE patient activities. Sometimes people come to the office in person – not necessarily to ask for anything, but just to say hello and thank you. At least twice a week I attend virtual meetings to discuss new projects, as well as educational webinars.
In recent years my working days have become more intense, with WALCE multiplying the number of initiatives for people with lung cancer and the population. We now reach many parts of Italy and engage an ever-increasing number of people. We have also increased our presence on advisory boards and committees in Italy and abroad. I partake in many advocacy meetings as well as tables on national health policies, making sure patient’s voices are heard.
In the last two years, I have been part of the effort to implement a screening programme in Italy. We now have a national pilot for the implementation of LDCT screening in 19 centres across Italy. I also contribute to many events promoting the precision medicine throughout Italy.
What is working well in Italy, and what could be improved?
The national health service in Italy guarantees pharmaceutical coverage, so all citizens have access to treatment for cancer and chronic diseases, including the latest generation of innovative medicines.
There are excellent cancer centres, oncologists and other specialists within Italy however there is still a lack of homogeneity of treatments and quality assistance throughout the country. Associations such as WALCE work to fill these gaps and offer people with lung cancer the care services they need. It is also vital that the national lung cancer screening study becomes a full-fledged national screening programme, like the existing breast cancer screening programme.
What motivated you to join the Lung Cancer Policy Network?
WALCE has been working since 2006 to improve the lives of people affected by lung cancer, but a large part of our efforts are also dedicated to the prevention of this disease.
We have joined the Network because it’s incredible that for a type of cancer that kills so many people every year, screening is not yet available in most of Europe. Delays in screening implementation have resulted in the loss of many lives. It is extremely important that we work together to make lung cancer screening a policy priority. Together we can drive meaningful change.
What would you like to see from the Network as it develops?
The Network offers members a good opportunity to communicate with the other people who play key roles in implementing lung cancer screening programmes across the world. It is a space to share expertise and experiences.
To date, the Lung Cancer Policy Network has already developed useful resources to support the countries that are still working on implementing lung cancer screening. As the Network develops, increased support could be offered in these countries. Additionally, ensuring the Network is present at national events could further encourage policymakers to address the issue of lung cancer screening implementation.
What changes would you like to see in lung cancer care on a global level?
I would like to see more investment in prevention and early diagnosis. Governments should think more in terms of value, rather than costs-incurred − the value of lives saved, increased survival years and better quality of life, thanks to early diagnosis.
Real innovation would see everyone benefiting from all available diagnostic and therapeutic opportunities, and from the latest findings in research.
What recent research have you found the most interesting or exciting?
It’s incredible to think that today an increasing number of people all over the world have been living for 6, 7, 10 years with metastatic lung cancer and they work, go out with friends, go to the gym, live a normal life and are active in the advocacy field. This was so rare 10−15 years ago.
It’s exciting to think how targeted therapy and immunotherapy have completely changed the life and the future of a portion of people with this disease. I hope that the implementation of screening programmes offer even more chances for people to be diagnosed and cured early.
Outside of work, what do you spend your time doing?
I like travelling to meet new people and learn about new cultures. I love cinema, walking in the mountains and running. I’ve started running to raise money for WALCE and I am proud to say that I’ve become a marathon runner.
The Lung Cancer Policy Network brings together a unique mix of experts in lung cancer from around the world, united in their passion to eliminate lung cancer as a cause of death.
We regularly share profiles of our members so that you can find out more about what led them to work in lung cancer and what changes they would like to see in lung cancer prevention and care on a global level.
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