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Integrative Support Services at The Joan and James Vernon Cancer Center
The Vernon Cancer Center at Newton-Wellesley Hospital provides patients with compassionate cancer care, expert and innovative services and advanced treatment options. Additionally, Newton-Wellesley offers a number of positive, life-enhancing integrative cancer support services for cancer patients and their families. The goal of these services is to reduce symptoms, improve quality of life for the patient and their family, help patients cope with pain, anxiety and stress throughout their treatment and provide support after treatment.
Patients who come to the Vernon Cancer Center have access to a full range of support services provided by specialists in their field. These experts are dedicated to providing care for cancer patients and helping them to live life as normally as possible with their cancer diagnosis.
“It’s my vision to provide patients and their families with a single point of contact. Someone they can easily reach out to who can help them navigate the system,” says Cindy Krasnecky, RN, OCN, Patient Navigator at the Center. “We have an amazing Integrated Support Services team here and we are on a mission to improve cancer care for each patient and their family.”
As part of her role, Cindy helps to create awareness for patients and their families about community resources and educational programs. She also works to ensure all members of the patient’s care team are updated with the patient’s progress throughout their treatment.
Social Work Services
“It is important for patients to have their psychological and social needs evaluated alongside their medical needs to get sufficient support as they transition through a life-threatening illness,” says Denise Sullivan, MSW, LICSW, Social Worker at the Vernon Cancer Center. “The impact of cancer can be devastating to families. As social workers, we are uniquely trained to assess the needs of the whole system and provide support. Patients and families are often coping with anxiety, fear of loss and potential loss of ability to function in their daily lives. Treatment can sometimes lead to depression, and we know that anxiety commonly surfaces after medical treatment, when the dust settles.”
Patients or family members who are experiencing symptoms, or whose caregivers direct them to seek out Social Work Services, can contact Denise at any point during their care. She will provide them with help and support and assist them in arranging ongoing care. In collaboration with the multidisciplinary oncology team, Denise also provides psycho-social assessment, mental health evaluation and referral, facilitation of support groups, patient advocacy, after-care planning, outpatient follow up and referral information.
The PACT clinician works with parents, drawing on their combined knowledge and experience to develop a plan that each parent can follow to support their child’s continued healthy development.
“Patients who are also parents often experience significant worry about how their illness will affect their children,” says Susan Swick, MD, Psychiatrist and PACT Program Director at Newton-Wellesley. “PACT provides these patients with guidance and support so that they may comfortably and confidently return to their usual parenting role, providing their children with information, reassurance and support in a way that accounts for their child’s age and personality.”
Supporting the patient’s function as a parent not only addresses specific worries the patient may have about their children, but can also strengthen an entire family during a challenging time.
“The PACT program aims to contribute to the comprehensive care of patients at the Vernon Cancer Center by supporting the resiliency of each patient’s family,” says Dr. Swick.
“Eating well and good nutrition before, during and after cancer treatment is important for all patients,” says Leslie Judge, MS, RD, LDN, Dietitian at the Cancer Center. “A healthful diet can help patients maintain strength and energy while going through treatment, as well as withstand any side effects they may experience.”
Nutrition Services also assists patients dealing with existing nutritional issues and those brought on by cancer therapies. Resources available for patients include customized eating plans and nutrition education. Nutrition care provided at the Cancer Center may also be utilized to help patients in their transition from hospital to home.
“Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet are also important for patients once their treatments are finished to help ensure continued health,” says Leslie. “My role at the Cancer Center is to work with each patient to help optimize their diet and provide individual counseling to address particular nutritional concerns depending on the stage and type of treatment.”
Family history is important when determining increased risk for certain health conditions since five to ten percent of cancer cases are hereditary and due to an altered gene that is being passed down in a family. Several genes have been discovered that are associated with inherited cancer syndromes such as hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, inherited colorectal cancer syndromes and others. Finding an altered gene allows the patient’s physician to understand if they have increased risk for certain cancers. Using this information, the Genetics Services team helps patients tailor a screening and prevention program that would detect cancer at an early stage or prevent or lower the risk of cancer.
“We focus on the health of both the oncology patient and their family,” says Taryn Schiripo, MS, Licensed Genetic Counselor at the Cancer Center. “Our team specializes in and is uniquely qualified to identify, understand and mitigate the risk of hereditary cancer for both the patient and their family.”
By analyzing a patient’s medical and family history, the team can determine whether specific genetic testing is indicated. “In a situation where the need for genetic testing is recommended and a hereditary cancer syndrome is identified, team members are qualified to explain the situation, recommend strategies to manage cancer risk and give emotional support to the patient and their family,” adds Taryn.
The Genetics Services program collaborates with the Auerbach Breast Center at Newton-Wellesley to provide the Breast Cancer High Risk Assessment program. The team will be working to roll out similar programs for other cancer syndromes.
Yoga for Cancer Patients
“We hope that patients undergoing cancer treatment will benefit from yoga to relax their nervous system, provide stretching and strengthening, improve their sleep and give them some strategies for managing stress,” say Ann. “The class is very gentle and relaxing and is designed for everyone to be able to participate.”
Benefits of yoga for cancer patients include:
“A diagnosis of cancer can be a frightening and overwhelming experience for patients,” says Wendy Caves, RN at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and Reiki Master/Teacher of traditional Usui Reiki. “By offering Reiki, patients feel empowered because they are able to be actively involved in their care. The philosophy of Reiki is that the body retains the wisdom to significantly improve its own physical, emotional and spiritual condition.”
Benefits of Reiki include:
“Reiki is not a substitute for medical treatment, but rather a complementary therapy that enhances medical care,” adds Wendy. “Reiki decreases stress and anxiety while increasing a person’s general sense of well-being.”
Wendy Caves, RN
Leslie Judge, MS, RD, LDN
Ann Knocke, MS
Cindy Krasnecky, RN, OCN
Taryn Schiripo, MS, LGC
Denise E. Sullivan, MSW, LICSW
Susan Swick, MD, MPH
As the specialists work to determine the needs of patients coming to the Vernon Cancer Center, the services being offered will continue to evolve and adapt to meet these needs. Currently, specialized palliative care services that focus on the pain, symptoms and stress of a cancer diagnosis and pain management services tailored to deal with each patient’s unique diagnosis are being developed.
For more information about the Cancer Center at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, call CareFinder at 1-866-NWH-DOCS (694-3627) or visit our website at www.nwh.org/cancer. For breast cancer care, visit the Auerbach Breast Center page on our website.