Finding cancer support to ease the burdens
September 25, 2019
Easing the Burdens of Cancer
From chaplains and financial counselors to experts in palliative care and bereavement, a whole network of support is available to patients and their families. Learn about some of the lesser-known challenges of fighting cancer – and how Simmons Cancer Center can help.
A cancer diagnosis, no matter the stage or the complexity of the disease, can bring about a slew of questions and feelings of uncertainty. What will happen? What will my medical bills be like? What about my family and my job?
While the medical staff at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center is fighting the disease, a comprehensive network of care providers helps patients and their families work through some of the logistical and spiritual challenges of cancer. Tammy Wynn, M.Div., BCC, Chaplain at Simmons Cancer Center, says cancer treatment goes far beyond just the medical care. “You’re seeking doctors for your medical care but recognize that this doesn’t just affect you physically and biologically – it affects you emotionally and spiritually.”
Living well during treatment
In her work as a spiritual adviser, Ms. Wynn can help patients address their fears of the unknowns associated with cancer treatment and survivorship. “Sometimes allowing them to name their own anxieties and get them out – they lose their power over patients,” she says. “If that can lessen their burden a little bit, I think that’s helpful to the whole person so they can withstand the treatment through this process.” Chaplains are theologically and clinically trained to help patients of any spiritual or religious preference, Ms. Wynn says, as well as those who have no religious preference.
She works closely with Simmons Cancer Center’s other care professionals, including Stephanie Terauchi, M.D., Medical Director of Palliative Care at UT Southwestern, and her 20-person palliative care team. Palliative care, often confused with hospice, is specialized care for patients battling serious illness. Palliative care professionals help ease patients’ physical and mental stresses to improve quality of life, addressing a variety of symptoms, including pain, fatigue, anxiety, shortness of breath, nausea, constipation, and side effects from cancer or cancer treatment.
“The whole goal is to help patients live in the best way that they can with the illness they’re fighting,” Dr. Terauchi says. “They’re able to stay active and engaged in their life as much as possible.” For patients who are overwhelmed with their diagnosis and growing list of doctor visits, adding one more appointment can feel daunting, Dr. Terauchi says. But patients tell her making time for palliative care treatment makes those burdens easier to handle. In fact, properly managing symptoms can make a significant difference for patients who are battling cancer, Dr. Terauchi says, helping them live longer, better lives. “Palliative care is very much about living and living well,” she says.
You’re seeking doctors for your medical care but recognize that this doesn’t just affect you physically and biologically – it affects you emotionally and spiritually.”
Tackling the costs of cancer care
For many patients, the cost of treatment can be a significant source of stress. Redia Simmons-Winters, Patient Financial Services Supervisor at Simmons Cancer Center, estimates chemotherapy treatment alone can range from $10,000 to $250,000 for patients without medical coverage. Patients with insurance can still face substantial deductibles and copayments throughout their care. “We want to try to ease the financial burden for all of our patients,” Ms. Simmons-Winters says. The Financial Services Department answers billing questions, provides cost estimates, connects patients with community resources, identifies financial assistance, and helps secure full or partial payment toward the often-expensive medications used to fight cancer. Some patients are open to talking about their monetary hardships. But for many, discussing finances is difficult. “We have found that transparency, compassion, resources, and reassurance all help,” Ms. Simmons-Winters says. “I’m very fortunate to have a compassionate team that goes above and beyond daily to help our patients.”
Life changes throughout a patient’s care can add more uncertainty to an already difficult situation. “We’ve had patients who have lost their job, their coverage, or they’ve switched to a cheaper plan and it’s out of network,” Ms. Simmons-Winters says. “It’s important for the patient to let us know when that happens so we can provide them with whatever financial services we have available.”
A sacred space
Chaplain Wynn also encourages patients to be open about what they need. “We can’t lessen your burden if we don’t know,” she says. “Don’t be scared to reach out.”
While Ms. Wynn meets primarily with patients, she also welcomes spouses and caregivers to come to her for support. “Cancer doesn’t just affect the patient,” she says. “It affects their community, their family, and their caregivers. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things that has a ripple effect.” Her sessions are confidential and allow patients to open up about what they’re going through. “It’s a freeing place where they can express those things they’re thinking about but not sure if they want to tell their children or their spouse,” Ms. Wynn says. “I feel privileged to be in that safe space with them. That is, to me, a sacred space.”