“Cancer is a life-threatening and life-altering illness. When life changes so drastically, all aspects of personhood are impacted, including one’s spirituality. These changes may cause a patient to begin asking questions such as, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ ‘What about my future hopes and dreams?’ ‘Where is God in all of this?’ and a host of other spiritual questions that may or may not have answers ...”
— Rev. Cassie McCarty
Reverend Cassie McCarty knows that in times of crisis or when coping with day-to-day events, patients often lean upon their religious tradition for support and comfort. They also may find renewed interest in religion or spirituality. She hopes to fulfill those important needs for patients as City of Hope’s new chaplain.
“Medicine and science provide amazing gifts that help all of us, but there are times when those gifts do not bring comfort when emotional or spiritual pain exists, or when these gifts cannot make sense of the mysteries of life and death being contemplated by a patient,” McCarty said.
Working through the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center, chaplains can provide patients with spiritual and religious support, as well as a feeling of connection in times of distress — complementing what doctors and researchers bring, according to McCarty.
“We are working on creating an outstanding program, recruiting the best chaplains and making connections with local religious leaders to bring excellent spiritual care to patients, loved ones and staff,” said McCarty. “I also plan to work closely with our social workers and become very visible to the nursing staff so that they know I’m available and responsive to patient needs.”
Nellie Garcia, L.C.S.W., director of the Clinical Social Work Department, agrees. “We are committed to providing patient-centered care and, under the Biller Resource Center, the spiritual care and clinical social work departments work closely together to make this happen,” Garcia said.
Spiritual Care Services opened a meditation room next to the gift shop at City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital in mid-November to allow patients, families and employees a place to pray, meditate and rest, McCarty noted, and the department also plans to hire two or three more chaplains next year.
For now, however, McCarty is the only hand on deck, which means she sees patients on a referral basis. “The patients I see are those who specifically request a chaplain or whose family or nursing staff request a chaplain on their behalf,” she said. McCarty also can arrange for patients to receive visits from spiritual care leaders of a variety of other faiths from throughout the local community.
McCarty started her career as an administrative assistant for physician-researchers at UCLA Medical Center, where her interest in end-of-life care began. Although she left the medical center to pursue her masters degree, and then worked for a time as a chaplain for graduate students, McCarty eventually returned as a hospital chaplain for UCLA Medical Center and Neuropsychiatric Hospital.
McCarty has a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from UCLA and a Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.
Spiritual Care Services may be reached at 626-256-4673, ext. 63898.