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HOPA’s New Patient Advisory Panel

Chelsea Gustafson, PharmD, BCOP
Oncology Pharmacy Specialist
Community Health Network: Community Regional
Cancer Centers
Kokomo, IN

August 2021 marks the inauguration of HOPA’s new Patient Advisory Panel. This panel was developed by the Patient Outreach Committee to provide patients who have been impacted by cancer and blood diseases a platform to influence the overall mission of HOPA. The panel consists of seven cancer survivors who provide HOPA’s committees, councils, and task forces with feedback and guidance to ensure programs, initiatives, policies, and publications provide a patient perspective.

This panel is an exciting step in helping to fulfill HOPA’s vision, which is for all individuals affected by cancer to have a hematology/ oncology pharmacist as an integral member of their care team. These panelists represent a wide background of cancer types and careers; including pharmacy, information technology, research, and more.

Q&A with the Patient Advisory Panel
Each member was selected by the Patient Outreach Committee after a thorough review process. As an introduction to the panel, portions of their applications have been compiled below. For each member’s full bio, please visit the patient outreach page on

Why are you interested in serving on the Patient Advisory Panel?

Morgan Kelly
The unique perspective that I have obtained by being both a patient and a chemotherapy provider (pharmacist) gives me an added ability to empathize and connect with other patients. It is a privilege to introduce myself to another patient and share that I have been in their shoes. I’m really looking forward to my involvement with the HOPA Patient Advisory Panel.

Steven Merlin
I am a nine-year survivor of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Multiple treatment regimens followed by targeted therapy in a clinical trial resulted in reaching NED status in April 2016. I am very active in patient advocacy and serve as the Outreach Chair for the New Jersey affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. I’ve dedicated myself to mentoring pancreatic cancer patients and caregivers with the goal of achieving the best patient outcome possible.

Thomas Henry III
I believe that my experience as a patient, coupled with my experience as a pharmacist with oncology service line experience, puts me in a unique position to understand the needs of the patient and the perspective of fellow pharmacy professionals. I look forward to working with this group.

Erin Buss
I was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer in 2019. While a cancer diagnosis is never expected, I found myself better equipped to navigate this path because of my relationships and general understanding of the healthcare system. Because of this, I am now committed to helping to support those diagnosed after me to find their voice and advocate for themselves while making treatment decisions and beyond.

Please tell us a little about yourself.

George Jerome Valentine
I was born and raised in Philadelphia, where I lived and worked until I moved to Dallas in 1975. I started my career as an Information Technology professional in 1971 and retired in 2019. Over the years I worked in every area of Information Technology, and I have traveled and worked in numerous countries.

Mike Harrison
I am one of the first members of the Patient and Caregiver Oncology Quality Council (POQC), which was formed several years ago to provide the patient and caregiver voice for the Michigan Oncology Quality Consortium. I have also been a member of the Patient and Family Advisory Committee for the Rogel Cancer Center at Michigan Medicine for the past six years. I retired in 2016 after 29 years at Michigan Medicine, primarily as director of PR and Marketing as well as a manager in strategic planning.

Karen Fancher
I am an Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice in Oncology Acute Care at Duquesne University School of Pharmacy in Pittsburgh. I serve on the faculty for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Board Certification in Oncology Pharmacy Review & Recertification course, as well as on various committees of both HOPA and the Advanced Topics for Oncology Pharmacy Professionals (ATOPP) Summit. My research interests include chronic leukemias and ethics in oncology.

Steven Merlin
I reside in Interlaken, a small community along the Northern New Jersey Coast. I currently split my time between the New Jersey Shore and Zürich, Switzerland. My professional career spans 35 years in academic and government research labs and the life sciences industry.

Thomas Henry III
In addition to being a CLL patient, I am a Registered Pharmacist with more than 40-years of experience. Since 2008, I have served in seventeen health systems as the Director of Pharmacy or Chief Pharmacy Officer on an interim basis.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Karen Fancher
My husband Stewart and I are the proud parents of two pretty awesome teenagers. When I’m not off on an adventure with my family, you can find me reading, cooking, cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and daydreaming about musical legend Sting.

Thomas Henry III
I am an avid reader, love to cook and garden. My wife, Meli, and I keep busy with entertaining and extensive travel.

Morgan Kelly
I live in North Augusta, South Carolina with my husband, our elementary-age daughter, and our two cats. Working part time enables me to enjoy time with my family, go on school field trips, and indulge in a good book or five.

How do you envision contributing as a panelist?

Steven Merlin
My focus will be to provide a patient perspective from those dealing with recalcitrant cancers, their concerns with medication side effects, costs, development, and availability time. I envision my role to serve as a liaison between HOPA and patients to translate and disseminate information, and to help patients understand the role pharmacologists and pharmacists play in patient healthcare. I’m here to help keep patients informed of advances in oncology medications and promote the importance of patients participating in clinical trials.

George Jerome Valentine
I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in 2002 and formal treatment began in 2005. I have had every test available, numerous hospitalizations, and currently take 10 different medicines daily. I feel my years of continuous treatment and dealing with doctors, hospitals and pharmacies allow me to provide unique insight to HOPA and others who are supporting or living with chronic illnesses.

HOPA is extremely fortunate to have such a wonderful group of patient panelists who have volunteered to help shape what the organization does and provides for our patients. We cannot thank this group enough for their willingness to participate and for all the insight they will bring to our organization. We look forward to seeing how this panel strengthens our mission and improves our ongoing initiatives through sharing their expertise and life perspectives. Welcome to our inaugural Patient Advisory Panel!