Past Front Lines have profiled executive officers and other SWOG leaders. Today, we debut a new Front Line feature to spotlight our patient advocates. With 24 research and community advocates, SWOG has the largest, most experienced, and most diverse group of advocates in the NCTN. Keep reading, and meet one of the team!

On most Monday mornings, we hold our executive review, or triage, call to discuss proposed trials and decide which ones move on to the NCI. It’s one of the most important conversations we have at SWOG. Every single week, I’m impressed by Hildy Dillon, our patient advocate triage representative. She asks smart questions and makes thoughtful observations, always challenging our thinking and providing a fresh perspective.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Hildy has 40 years of cancer research experience – a rich professional portfolio that informs not only our executive calls but all the trials coming out of our lymphoma committee, where she has served for more than 10 years. She joined at the invitation of former lymphoma chair Dr. Rich Fisher and is now working under the leadership of Dr. Jonathan Friedberg.

Hildy started her career in 1978, fresh out of college with a biology degree. In the New York Times , she saw an ad for a lab tech position at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Scientists were running a clinical trial investigating a possible link between hormones and breast cancer.  In the lab, in the still-early days of chemical and hormone therapies, Hildy worked closely with scientists, shuttling blood and breast fluid samples and seeing trial conduct up close. She also worked closely with patients with breast cancer, spending hours in the outpatient clinic hearing about their fears and the daily difficulties of a disease that, at the time, was often a death sentence.

“Seeing the psychosocial impact of a life-threatening illness up close led me to public health,” she says. “These patients were so interested in the research we were doing, and how it might affect them. That experience taught me that patients didn’t understand what was happening to them.”

MSKCC supported Hildy while she earned her master’s degree in public health and served as supervisor of the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service – the folks behind 1-800-4-CANCER – which was then based at Memorial. She went on to manage smoking and health programs at the American Lung Association, lead patient and professional programs for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and serve as vice president of MK&A, a leading patient engagement and advocacy consulting firm.

Hildy is now at Cancer Support Community, the world’s largest non-profit cancer support network, where she is senior vice president. She oversees all patient programs, services, and education programs, work that touches people in 175 locations globally, offering $50 million annually in free support services for people with cancer and their caregivers. Her staff oversee a toll-free help line and produce educational materials that reach more than 1 million people each year.

This deep experience positions Hildy perfectly for her role at SWOG – bridging the gap between scientists and physicians and the patients they serve.

“In my role as advocate, I use my interest in and understanding of the science and bring forward how SWOG clinical trials are an opportunity to study how new therapy approaches are impacting the patient experience,” she says. “And I am still learning – the next wave of trial design, or the latest in genomics and patient reported outcomes. Some new idea is always being discussed. I am always impressed with the level of commitment among all my SWOG colleagues to improve overall cancer patient outcomes, including their quality of life.”

To learn more about Hildy, and our 23 other patient advocates, visit their page on the SWOG website. And join me in thanking them for providing services we simply could not get anywhere else.