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.

Patient Navigation
To ensure coordinated delivery of patient care, the Cancer Center offers patients access to a Patient Navigator. The Navigator, a certified oncology nurse, provides support from the point of diagnosis through the entire continuum of care and works in conjunction with the physician to review, coordinate, educate, implement and evaluate services that will complement the patient’s care plan.

“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
The Cancer Center provides psychological and social services to help patients and their families deal with the emotional impact of the initial diagnosis and treatment. The Center provides access to an oncology social worker to address these needs of patients and their families to help maximize their quality of life.

“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.

PACT Program
The PACT (Parenting At a Challenging Time) Program at Newton-Wellesley Hospital helps parents address the challenges of raising children while undergoing cancer treatment. The PACT team provides individual counseling and works with parents who are concerned about the impact their diagnosis and treatment may have on their children. PACT offers parents the guidance to:

  • Explain and discuss the illness with their children;
  • Address common questions and behavior changes;
  • Prepare children for hospital visits; and
  • Develop ways to cope with other concerns.

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.

Nutrition Services 
The Vernon Cancer Center offers comprehensive nutrition services to oncology patients. These services include providing:

  • Practical, scientifically-based nutrition advice to help manage treatment side effects;
  • Strategies for managing changes in appetite and weight loss;
  • Recommendations for IV nutrition and tube feedings; and 
  • Guidance regarding foods, supplements, vitamins and herbs.

“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.”

Genetics Services
The Vernon Cancer Center provides genetic counseling for individuals and families who are concerned about their cancer risks due to a personal or family history of cancer including:

  • Comprehensive risk assessment of a patient’s medical and family history;
  • Genetic testing for inherited cancer syndromes, if appropriate; and
  • Ways to manage and lower cancer risks based on genetic test results and/or family history analysis.

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 
The Center offers yoga classes for individuals in active cancer treatment (including the time between series of chemotherapy and radiation therapy). Classes include practice in movement, relaxation, imagery, breathing, meditation, centering and integrating practice into daily life. Ann Knocke, MS, Certified Cancer and Cardiac Yoga Instructor and Physical Therapist and Cardiovascular Specialist in the Department of Rehabilitation Services at Newton-Wellesley Hospital specializes in yoga for cancer patients and provides these services.

“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:

  • Decreased pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression and nausea
  • Increased confidence and elevation of mood
  • Increased energy and ability to perform activities of daily living
  • Decreased sleep disturbances and sense of isolation

The Cancer Center provides Reiki treatment as a pleasant, safe and relaxing experience that allows the patient to participate in their body’s own natural ability to heal. Reiki is a technique involving the non-invasive placement of hands on the body to promote relaxation, decrease pain and nausea, reduce stress and increase healing. The technique is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through the body and can be blocked by life stresses.

“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:

  • Diminishing the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy
  • Pain control and accelerated healing
  • Emotional and spiritual support
  • Increased ability to sleep

“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.”

Our Team

Wendy Caves, RN
Reiki Master/Teacher of traditional Usui Reiki

Wendy has worked as a nurse at Newton-Wellesley Hospital for more than 30 years. Wendy received her bachelor’s degree in business management from Assumption College. She is a Reiki Master/Teacher of the traditional Usui Reiki and a Certified Cymatron Sound Facilitator. Wendy also teaches Reiki 1 and 2 workshops to the community through the Wellness Center at Newton-Wellesley.

Leslie Judge, MS, RD, LDN
Leslie received her master’s of science in nutrition from Boston University and completed her dietetic internship at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. She also completed an internship in bionutrition at the Mallinckrodt General Clinical Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. Leslie is a clinical instructor at Boston University and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and the Massachusetts Dietetic Association.

Ann Knocke, MS
Certified Cardiac and Cancer Yoga Instructor, Physical Therapist and Cardiovascular Specialist
Ann received her master’s of science in physical therapy from Columbia University. She is a Certified Cardiopulmonary Specialist and has been working in acute care hospitals for more than 15 years including Columbia Presbyterian, Boston Medical Center, Mass General and Newton-Wellesley. Ann has been teaching cardiac yoga at Newton-Wellesley for four years.

Cindy Krasnecky, RN, OCN
Patient Navigator
Cindy received her bachelor’s of science in nursing from Our Lady of the Elms College. She also completed a neuroscience nurse internship at the National Institutes of Health and is an oncology certified nurse. Before joining Newton-Wellesley, Cindy worked as a primary care nurse in the Oncology Clinic at Milford Regional Medical Center. In this role, Cindy also served as the resource nurse to hospital staff regarding inpatient chemotherapy and oncology education.

Taryn Schiripo, MS, LGC
Licensed Genetics Counselor
Taryn received her master’s of science in human genetics from Sarah Lawrence College. Before joining the Cancer Center team, Taryn was a clinical genetic counselor for the Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a genetic counselor and research coordinator at Harvard Partners Center for Genetics and Genomics. Taryn is certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling, licensed in the state of Massachusetts and a member of the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

Denise E. Sullivan, MSW, LICSW
Social Worker

Denise received her master’s degree in clinical social work and business administration from Boston College. She has worked for many years with diverse populations including cancer patients at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. Her clinical interests include group work and providing psychological and social support for individuals and families dealing with cancer.

Susan Swick, MD, MPH
Director, PACT Program

Dr. Swick received her medical degree from Columbia University of Physicians and Surgeons and completed her residency in adult psychiatry at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. She completed her fellowship in forensic psychiatry at New York University Hospital Center. Her clinical interests include parent guidance for adults with cancer and teaching development for medical professionals. Dr. Swick is board certified in psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry and forensic psychiatry.

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.

With access to all of these services, patients who come to the Center will experience a support system throughout their entire treatment, providing a more seamless and nurturing journey through their cancer therapy. These integrative support services at the Cancer Center are generally not fully covered by insurance; they are funded by the generous donations of our community.

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 For breast cancer care, visit the Auerbach Breast Center page on our website.

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