When I met Matt Lashey, co-founder of chemoWave, we immediately bonded over our shared experience of being primary caregivers to a loved one with cancer. My mom was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008, just as I was graduating high school. Matt’s partner, Ric, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011.

We each became the primary caregiver for our loved one as they faced their cancer diagnoses and the symptoms and medication side effects that came along with them.

Discovering a connection between a medication and symptoms

When talking with Matt about his own experience as a caregiver, he said, “Early on in Ric’s cancer journey, he experienced severe constipation. He couldn’t walk, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. It was debilitating.”

If you’ve had cancer or been the primary caregiver to someone with cancer, you know that managing symptoms and medication side effects are some of the hardest parts of a cancer diagnosis. From nausea and vomiting to depression and anxiety, the symptoms and medication side effects that cancer patients face can be overwhelming and lead to a poor quality of life.

“I started to track all of Ric’s activities, entering them all into spreadsheets and charting them out. By doing this we realized that Ric’s constipation seemed to happen on days he was taking his anti-nausea medication. We told Ric’s doctor this and he prescribed a new medication for Ric. His constipation went away overnight. It was amazing to see how a medication can cause such terrible side effects, and switching to another can relieve them so quickly.”

Helping others take control of treatment

Just as my own experience as a caregiver shaped the focus of my career in health and genomics, Matt went on to develop chemoWave, a health app for cancer patients and their families to track and manage side effects in real time throughout treatment. By helping patients track symptoms, water intake, exercise, and when they took a medication, the app provides personal insights — showing patterns and correlations that empower patients with actionable information about themselves.

“Tracking Ric’s symptoms and side effects made us feel in control of the situation,” Matt said. “Throughout his entire treatment, we tracked everything. Instead of patting him on the back and saying, ‘you’ll feel better if you get out of bed,’ we were able to tie his activities to when he was feeling better or worse. We wanted to make this possible for other people being treated for cancer, so we launched chemoWave.”

Pharmacogenetic testing as another tool to reduce medication side effects

I was curious if Ric’s response to his anti-nausea medication could be related to his genetics, so I told Matt and Ric about the OneOme RightMed® test. The RightMed test is a pharmacogenetic (PGx) test that analyzes a person’s DNA to help predict how they’re likely to respond to medications. The medication that likely contributed to Ric’s constipation is one of the hundreds of medications covered by the RightMed test.

When Matt and Ric learned about the RightMed test, they wondered if the results could have helped Ric avoid his constipation altogether. Even though Ric is now a cancer survivor and done with treatment, they were eager to get his results.

“Sure enough when we received Ric’s RightMed test results, the medication that we believe caused Ric’s constipation was in the red category on his test report.”

When a medication is in the red category, the patient is predicted to have a major gene-drug interaction. With a major gene-drug interaction, the patient may be at an increased risk of either the medication not working at all or causing side effects.

“Seeing the RightMed test results legitimized and validated what we learned through our tracking—that it was likely caused by the anti-nausea medication. Ric’s constipation was such a significant and overwhelming issue, that we wondered how things would have been different if he had the RightMed test results at the beginning of his treatment. Now we’re passionate about educating chemoWave users about pharmacogenetic testing and how it may help them.”

Joint effort to educate cancer patients about pharmacogenetic testing

OneOme and chemoWave are now working together to increase awareness of PGx testing among cancer patients. As a first step, chemoWave conducted a survey via its app to understand its users’ symptoms and side effects and to gauge their awareness of PGx testing. Here are some of the most interesting insights we discovered:

  • On average, chemoWave users are prescribed and/or are taking medications for 3 symptoms or side effects
  • Two-thirds (66%) of chemoWave users say that they’ve taken a medication that didn’t seem to work for them
  • About 3 out of 4 chemoWave users (73%) claim they’ve taken medications that seemed to cause negative side effects
  • Most chemoWave users are not familiar with pharmacogenetic testing (85%), but the majority want to learn more (81%)

The survey results only reinforced how strongly OneOme and chemoWave feel about working together to tackle our shared goal of reducing medication side effects and helping patients feel more in control of their treatment.

Tools to help cancer patients maintain better quality of life

While the medical field still has a lot of work to do to help cancer patients live better quality of lives during their treatment, I am encouraged by partnerships between companies like chemoWave and OneOme.

I’ve seen firsthand how my mom benefitted from both the RightMed test and the chemoWave app. My hope is that we are able to get these tools into the hands of as many cancer patients as possible, helping cancer patients feel more in control of their treatment and empowered to partner with their doctors in their care.

Would you like to know more? Visit our cancer page to learn more about how the RightMed test can help and download the chemoWave app today. If you’d like to get the RightMed test for yourself or a loved one, click the button below.

Erica Schnettler
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