|Patients battling cancer and other serious illnesses need help beyond the therapies designed to defeat their disease. They also need comfort and support.
How does the support of a
network of family and friends
help patients facing serious illness?
“Family members and other support
systems can really help patients by
buoying them through a scary time.
These connections make patients
feel cared for and comforted in a way
that can diminish feelings of isolation.
Family and friends engage the patient
in life beyond cancer in a meaningful
way, with children and grandchildren
or with their passions in life, be it
work, hobbies or just getting out into
nature. Therapeutic research shows
that a supportive, caring presence
diminishes anxiety and depression,
buttressing an overall sense of wellbeing.”
What services does
City of Hope offer to help
“City of Hope really looks at the
patient and family as multifaceted
— physically, mentally, emotionally,
spiritually and existentially — and we
focus on all of those features. This
care ethic drew me to City of Hope.
Our approach is unique — there’s
nowhere else in the country with a
supportive care medicine department
like ours that houses almost every
resource you could possibly need
to support the patient and family
through this very challenging time.
We have social work, psychology,
psychiatry, pain and palliative
medicine, child-life services, spiritual
care and education services all
housed together and working toward
the unified goal of offering seamless
integrative care for patients and
families in need.
The Sheri & Les Biller Patient and
Family Resource Center spans beyond
the medical-model approach, where
the patient- and family-centered care
ethic is more pronounced. They focus
on patient and family education, as
well as offering complementary and
holistic therapies to enhance overall
well-being. When you have cancer,
there are so many unknowns that
can breed anxiety and depression.
If we can give patients and families
knowledge and be a comforting
presence, this diminishes the sense of
isolation and the unknown.
The center also offers activities
to ease the mind, body and spirit.
They offer yoga classes, massage
therapy and music therapy, as well as
the Positive Image Center. They’re
always thinking about new and
different multidimensional ways of
reaching out and touching patients.
For instance, the Hope Network
is a new pilot program that connects
patients with survivors who mentor
them. The survivors are the teachers.
They are the ones who have lived
the cancer experience, so they can
convey very practical information
such as what to expect from cancer
treatments like chemotherapy and
radiation. It’s a great opportunity
for survivors to help shepherd new
cancer patients and families through
their challenging journey — to let
them know that they are not alone
and there is hope.
You mentioned “reaching
out and touching patients.”
What is the value of touch
“Most of my clinical, teaching and
research initiatives have been focused
on the multidimensional nature of
touch — touching on and beyond
the skin. I’m interested in what it
means to touch patients’ lives. The
physical element of touch itself
promotes overall physical, mental
and emotional well-being. When we
extend that touch beyond the skin
through nonphysical modalities like
therapeutic conversation, music or
art, this may make the patient feel
even more meaningfully engaged and
connected with life during an anxietyevoking time.
The essence of meaningoriented therapeutic work is getting
patients to connect with what is most
meaningful to them in their lives. A
great deal of my work is centered on
assessing what brings a patient home
— to their existential, spiritual home
— and delivering an intervention that
helps bring them to that authentic,
comforting place. Everybody’s access
point for being at home in the world
is different, so meaningfully touching
patients’ lives becomes a creative
That’s something else that
drew me to City of Hope. As a
psychologist, I have the unique
opportunity to work with patients
and families, as well as develop new
integrative programs to meet their
needs, and teach clinicians how to
identify and treat existential-spiritual
issues across the lifespan in cancer
care. Truly meaningful work.
Psychologists have so much to
offer a comprehensive cancer center.
I wish more cancer centers were
like City of Hope and understood
the value of psychologists who are
uniquely trained to offer excellent
clinical care, as well as novel teaching
and programmatic initiatives. We’re
here, and we look forward to doing
more to help our patients and families