Helping You Move Forward During and After Cancer
A cancer diagnosis is often a life-changing event that can elicit a wide range of emotions and feelings. For many individuals, it’s common to be quite anxious, fearful, and overwhelmed. But with the right support and services, you can navigate through a cancer diagnosis.
At the WVU Cancer Institute, we pay special attention to the ways you’re impacted by cancer. Through the Bridge Survivorship Program, we are working to improve patients’ quality of life during and after cancer diagnoses.
“We learned a lot from working with cancer patients over the years,” says oncology nurse practitioner Adrienne Duckworth, MSN, director of the Bridge Survivorship Program. “Within the field of cancer care, we used to assess patients’ unmet needs after curative cancer treatment. While this provided opportunities for intervention at that point, over time we’ve come to understand that we need to address patients’ needs earlier in the care continuum.”
This understanding coincided with changes made by accrediting bodies. Their new standards allow programs like ours to shift our focus from survivorship care plans to meeting patients’ overall needs.
Measuring and Meeting Patients’ Needs
Just like there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment for cancer, no two people experience cancer the same way. Each individual has unique needs and challenges that could impact their ability to cope.
“The face of cancer is very diverse in West Virginia,” says research assistant professor Nicole Stout, DPT, a WVU Cancer Institute health researcher specializing in cancer rehabilitation and survivorship care, who is also the associate director of the Bridge Survivorship Program. “Many of our patients are juggling multiple responsibilities, such as jobs and childcare, while others are retired or serve as caregivers for others. Even though they’re worried about cancer, they’re often just as concerned about getting through their daily activities, supporting their families, or losing their job and their benefits.”
Patients may experience a variety of needs or other problems on top of treatment side effects. As a result, we aim to focus on any challenges an individual may be facing from the onset of their diagnosis.
“Every individual who comes to us for treatment, regardless of their type of cancer, undergoes a comprehensive needs assessment when they’re first diagnosed,” adds Dr. Stout. “We then repeat these assessments at regular intervals to ensure their needs are being identified and that they’re getting the support they need in any aspect of their life.”
Understanding Your Needs Helps Guide Care
The Bridge Survivorship Program was created to assist patients with any identified needs or concerns from diagnosis throughout the trajectory of their care. These needs are assessed at certain pivotal points of care because needs or challenges may change over time. Assessments occur during a patient’s active treatment period, as well as the period immediately following therapy. It also includes the time they enter their surveillance and follow-up phase of care.
Our assessment process incorporates standardized tools that screen for a range of psychosocial needs and concerns. These include depression, anxiety, loss of mobility or function, financial struggles, employment issues, and childcare needs.
“Our goal is to connect patients with resources they need to manage challenges in their personal life and the care they need to reduce symptoms and side effects,” says Duckworth. “When we address all these needs proactively, we reduce the risk of patients reaching a crisis point, which could cause setbacks in their treatment or recovery.”
Following your initial assessment, you’ll have access to an oncology social worker and specialty care nurse who can help you with navigation and care coordination. Depending on the results of your assessments, you’ll also have access to a wide range of programs and services available at the WVU Cancer Institute. These include:
- Counseling from licensed psychiatrists and clinical therapists who can help with common health challenges, such as anxiety and depression and help you adjust to your diagnosis
- Financial counseling, including support for patients who don’t have medical insurance
- Nutrition counseling from registered dietitians who can answer questions about dietary restrictions, nutritional supplements, tube feeding adjustments, or treatment side effects
- Pain management services
- Physical therapy from a board-certified oncology specialist to help manage pain, lymphedema, or other movement-related problems
- Occupational therapy from a licensed therapist who can help overcome challenges with daily activities, including memory problems
- Speech therapy from a licensed speech and language pathologist to help overcome communication challenges or swallowing problems
- Spiritual support from our hospital chaplains
“Not only do we make sure people get the support they need during treatment, but we’re also here to address their long-term care,” says Patricia Policicchio, MSW, the oncology program coordinator for the Bridge Survivorship Program. “An individual’s needs and concerns can change from their original diagnosis and after they complete their prescribed treatment. Just because they completed therapy doesn’t mean that their needs or concerns end. Challenges can present at any time, which is why repeated assessments are important.”
Living Life After Cancer
Once patients complete cancer treatment, our program aims to support their transition to the next phase of care: recovering from treatments and associated side effects and resuming their life roles.
“For many patients, readjusting to life after cancer can prove harder than they expected,” says Policicchio. “It’s normal to feel relief and gratitude at completing treatment. But patients also report feeling a bit uncertain about what comes next. Once a patient completes treatment, it’s quite common for them to experience some anxiety about not being seen as often and to have fears about cancer possibly recurring. That’s why it’s important that patients be assessed even after they’ve completed their cancer treatments, so that we can continue to connect them to any services or support they may need.”
In addition to services available through the Bridge Survivorship Program, the WVU Cancer Institute also provides free resources to our growing, thriving community of cancer survivors. These include:
- Support groups that let you talk with other people who have (or had) cancer and can relate to what you’re going through
- A Living Beyond Cancer podcast series designed for people who are receiving (or have completed) cancer treatments and their caregivers
- A private Living Beyond Cancer Facebook group managed by the WVU Cancer Institute staff
“If there is anything our patients have taught us, it’s that cancer care is not just about offering a medical or surgical treatment,” says Stout. “We can’t take away the impact cancer has on someone’s life, but we may be able to lessen it. We do everything we can to make sure each patient’s journey is as positive as possible.”