Time after time, breast surgeon Courtney Vito, M.D., would see women come into the clinic with the same scared look.
The Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Health Center will house a new evening clinic (Photo by Alicia Di Rado)
Alone and freshly diagnosed with breast cancer, they sat fidgeting in the waiting room, clutching their medical records and anxious for reassurance.
She understood their worries, because she has seen breast cancer touch her own family. Women should not have to go it alone, she thought. Why not recruit a woman’s spouse or partner to be an ally in treatment?
And so was born the Evening Partners Clinic. In the once-a-week clinic, new breast cancer patients and their spouse or partner meet both with Vito and clinical social workers to create a plan to battle cancer together.
Bringing in the patient’s partner, a huge part of her life, is important to whole-person-oriented care, said Vito. “Offering this clinic during the evening makes it easier for more couples to come to an appointment together, so they don’t have to miss work or can more easily adjust family obligations.”
During the evening visit, each couple first completes the SupportScreen questionnaire, a tablet-based assessment tool that asks a range of quality-of-life questions and allows patients to identify their level of distress in areas such as anxiety and sleep problems.
Matt Loscalzo (Photo by p.cunningham)
“The SupportScreen results help me focus on issues that need to be addressed early, to ensure that patients are well-prepared for treatment,” Vito said, noting that the assessment has led to referrals to experts for help on concerns ranging from exercise plans to alcohol abuse.
After completing the SupportScreen, the patient and partner meet with Department of Supportive Care Medicine clinical social workers Courtney Davis, L.C.S.W., and Matt Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., Liliane Elkins Professor in Supportive Care Programs. The social work team facilitates a discussion about tools and steps identified by previous patients and partners, as well as research, as helpful in learning to solve problems together and build an emotional connection during cancer diagnosis and treatment. The social workers cover other useful topics, as well: differences in how men and women communicate and cope; suggestions for partners about ways to be supportive to women with breast cancer; and how patients can get the support they need from their partners and families.
In turn, couples talk about the unique aspects of their own relationships and how to build on their partnership to stay healthy and happy during treatment.
Courtney Vito (Photo courtesy of Courtney Vito)
Afterward, Vito meets with the patient and her spouse or partner to go over test results, answer questions, come up with the best medical strategy and start the treatment process. The patient and partner later complete another SupportScreen satisfaction survey about their experience in the clinic.
Davis said the clinic is unique because few successful treatment models focus on identifying and building on contributions from each gender and making deep emotional connections during times of stress, when they are needed most.
“Men and women are reminded of the strengths in their relationship,” Davis said. “You can see them connecting.”
Courtney Davis (Photo by p.cunningham)
The clinic began as a pilot program earlier this year. After a brief hiatus, the weekly 5 to 8 p.m. clinic will resume on Nov. 2 in the Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Health Center. Patients are referred to the clinic through New Patient Services. In the future, the team hopes to expand it to include other breast surgeons in the Cooper Finkel Women’s Health Center.
In addition to Davis, Loscalzo and Vito, the team includes Deborah Vasquez of New Patient Services; Brett Evans, manager of SupportScreen operations; Karen Clark, M.S., program manager in the Department of Supportive Care Medicine; nurses in the Cooper Finkel Women’s Health Center; and clinical social workers Amy Donner, L.C.S.W., and Blanca Rivas, M.S.W.