Positive Approach to Cancer Care: Dr. Karen Remminger
Life has its share of unexpected twists and turns. For Dr. Karen
Gremminger, experiences and opportunities in her college years inspired her to give up her childhood dream to be a veterinarian and to pursue a career in hematology and oncology. Dr. Gremminger has been caring for cancer patients in the Fox Valley for 20 years. At Fox Valley Hematology & Oncology in Oshkosh, she takes a positive approach with patients and strives to get them involved in their care.
BECOMING AN ONCOLOGIST
Dr. Gremminger attended Texas A&M University, earning her degree in food science and technology. She then attended
medical school at Texas Tech University. Dr. Gremminger did her residency in internal medicine in Salt Lake City and
completed her fellowship at the University of Utah in hematology and oncology. Dr. Gremminger and her husband, Mark, an internist, moved to Oshkosh in 1997, to begin their medical practices.
Dr. Gremminger’s training included three years in internal medicine. In 35 of the 36 months, she had the opportunity to work with a local independent hematologist and oncologist. “Taking care of oncology patients in the hospital was very stressful because you are working with people that have acute leukemia or serious infections, but the office setting was a completely different environment.
The patients were very appreciative of the care they were receiving. It was a positive environment and you could really see your ability to help people. That’s what motivated me to go into hematology and oncology.”
At Fox Valley Hematology & Oncology, Dr. Gremminger sees all types of cancer patients. She estimates 20 percent of her practice is breast cancer care.
“I take care of any type of cancer that comes through the door. About 80 percent of people have already had a biopsy or diagnosis made, although some are sent to me because they have abnormal lab work or there are concerns, like weight loss or an unexplained scan,” says Dr. Gremminger.
In these cases, she’ll do an evaluation and workup to streamline the process. “We try to put the patient first and foremost with regards to an
efficient office practice, working to best manage not only their care, but their cost of care,” adds Dr. Gremminger.
A TYPICAL DAY
Dr. Gremminger’s day begins on the computer at 6:30 a.m. She’s at the hospital to do rounds by 8 a.m. and is in her office from 9a.m. – 5:30 p.m. If needed, she’ll return to the hospital after her office hours. Otherwise, Dr. Gremminger heads home and spends approximately two hours documenting her notes from seeing patients face-to-face. While her days are long and demanding, she reveals taking care of patients is what drives her to put up with the daily challenges.
A PERSONALIZED APPROACH
Dr. Gremminger emphasizes patient education and attempts to get them involved in their care. “Doctors aren’t always good at communicating what is happening on a basic level — that is one of the things I strive to achieve. I try to explain things in a way people understand. I’ll make
notes to help them comprehend. I think people want to be involved in what’s going on, but it’s often overwhelming and confusing,” she adds.
Dr. Gremminger explains there is a common misconception that it’s depressing when you walk into Fox Valley Hematology & Oncology
— that it’s all about death and dying. “That’s not the case. We focus on what we can do to control what’s going on. What can we do to maintain your quality of life? What are the different options?” she says.
Dr. Gremminger reveals some patients would prefer a cookiecutter approach to treatment, but every situation is unique. “You have to take into account what’s going on with their cancer and look at other health issues they’ve had in their life,” she adds.
ADVANCEMENTS IN BREAST CANCER CARE
In her career, Dr. Gremminger has seen dramatic advancements in therapies and changes in cancer care. She explains one of the greatest impacts has been the identification of HER-2/neu as a marker for high risk breast cancer, which has resulted in a higher cure rate. “HER-2/neu is a marker of an aggressive breast cancer and we have a new drug that specifically targets that protein, making the tumors more receptive to therapy. It’s been a huge advantage to that population,” says Dr. Gremminger.
She’s been able to aggressively treat patients that have genetic markers and avoid excessive treatment with patients that have a better outlook. “The majority of tumors are found quite small, so the probability of going through therapy and being cured is much better than it used to be,” adds Dr. Gremminger. “We have much higher cure rates and long-term survivorship.”
She explains even patients that have recurrent disease have more options. They are able to maintain better quality of life and experience
fewer side effects. She suggests cancer patients can do their part by remaining positive and getting the help they need.
“One of the biggest challenges is getting cancer patients the other support services they need,” she says. “There is a lot of psychological and
emotional stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis, so it’s trying to get people the help they need to handle anxiety and to learn new coping
To keep up with changes and advancements in cancer care, Dr. Gremminger reads medical journals and attends conferences. Pharmaceutical companies also constantly send representatives to her office to share information on the latest drugs being launched.
While cancer treatments have come a long way, Dr. Gremminger expects to see even more changes in healthcare in the years to come.
“The future of medicine will be the application of genetics and intramolecular biochemistry into more common health issues, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Cancer has shown us unique genetic similarities that drug developers have been able to target for disease control. I think it is just a matter of time to see this in other disease processes,” she adds. w