By Traci Newsom, Social Work Counselor
A cancer diagnosis affects people differently. However, every cancer patient has one thing in common: At some point during their journey, they undoubtedly experience stress. As a social work counselor here at MD Anderson, it's part of my job to help alleviate some of that stress. I do this by enabling patients to better focus on themselves and their actual care.
What our social workers do
People expect to see medical providers at their appointments. But they often forget to ask about or are not aware of the additional support available to them. This support may include counseling services for patients and family members, providing resources specifically designed for children dealing with a parent's cancer diagnosis through the KIWI program (Children's Lives Include Moments of Bravery), or advanced care planning such as assistance completing a Medical Power of Attorney or Living Will. Social Work services are available to patients receiving care at the Main Campus in the Medical Center as well as our other locations in Katy, Memorial City, Bay Area, The Woodlands and Sugar Land.
As a social worker, I can enter the picture at any point in a patient's cancer journey depending upon their needs and concerns. However, I often begin working with patients when they receive a cancer diagnosis. At that point, most are feeling particularly overwhelmed and confused.
Recently in Support Category
By Traci Newsom, Social Work Counselor
By Mary Brolley
While the world's largest medical center and the city that surrounds it sleep, our specialized Nocturnal Program team is hard at work.
The Nocturnal Program team tends to medical oncology patients, those just out of surgery or in the ICU, pediatric patients, and those admitted from our Emergency Center.
"Just because the day shift has gone home, it doesn't mean the patient won't spike a fever or have some other issue," says Angela Cone, program manager for the Nocturnal Program.
"Our team takes care of any issues patients have during our watch," she says.
Members of our Nocturnal Program team are specially trained to anticipate the needs of patients at night.
The team also includes a group of moonlighting physicians who cover even more hours, providing 24-hour care on weekends and holidays as well as overnight. Most are advanced practice nurses and physician assistants. All are credentialed and have privileges at MD Anderson. They are residents, fellows, and physicians on staff here and at other hospitals.
Improving care for cancer patients
Before the Nocturnal Program's launch in 2011, Hematology/Oncology fellows had been responsible for the care of our inpatients at night. As MD Anderson grew and the number of inpatient beds increased, the need to add to the after-hours team arose.
By Trevor Mitchell
After receiving a stem cell transplant, Judy Waxman faced a long road to recovery. She knew she would have to rely on her inner strength to stay motivated. But it was a small incentive she found through our inpatient stem cell transplant program that made the biggest difference during her hospitalization.
Colorful bandanas and strips of paper from an incentive-based mobility initiative called the Motivated and Moving Program kept Waxman encouraged.
The Motivated and Moving Program encourages patients to engage in physical activity and structured exercise three times a day by using an incentive-based model that uses stars, flags and other indicators to mark patients' progress. The program has become a catalyst for combating cancer-related fatigue and accelerating positive outcomes.
"No matter how tired I was, the Motivated and Moving Program was a reminder to want to improve each day," Judy says. "It created a positive environment that lifted my spirits and helped me focus on my health by challenging me to get out of my hospital room to exercise daily."
How the program keeps patients motivated and moving
Before beginning any physical activity, patients participating in the program obtain a colored piece of paper called a marker from a unit staff member. After finishing the activity, the patients document on the marker the time they just spent outside the room. The markers are then placed on the patients' doors.
By Lindsay Lewis
When Susanne Stanley started working at MD Anderson nearly two years ago, she never imagined the challenges associated with cancer recovery.
For many patients, recovering from surgery, chemotherapy and radiation -- or some combination of the three -- is a long and difficult process, says Stanley, an occupational therapist in Rehabilitation Services.
"Our job is to help patients function again, and find the strength and motivation to resume their lives."
Helping patients return to daily living
Stanley is one of more than 100 clinical professionals and support staff that make up Rehabilitation Services, which offers physical and occupational therapy to more than 10,000 inpatients and outpatients a year.
By Lindsey Garner
"We laugh, cut up, wear costumes, sing and dance," Ron Richards says.
This may sound like a variety show performance, but it's just another day on the job for Richards, a transportation representative responsible for driving carts back and forth on the skybridge between Mays Clinic and the Main Building.
Ten transportation representatives help our patients, caregivers, visitors, volunteers and employees get where they need to go. But they also often strike up conversations and friendships along the way.
"It's amazing that in a short two-minute window, people can connect in such a sincere way," says Karen Mooney, executive director in Facilities Management. "If we had different people driving the carts, it wouldn't work. It starts with that team."
Helping patients take their minds off cancer
"Every person who gets on the cart expects a ride from point A to point B in a timely manner," Richards says. But that's not enough for Richards and his fellow cart drivers.
Their goal: to help people get their minds off why they're actually here. And each driver has different approaches for making this happen.
By Cara Sorrell
At 21 years old, I was enjoying the new sense of independence that college brought. But this newfound freedom and self-sufficiency began to crumble not long after my biphasic synovial sarcoma diagnosis.
The unsung hero of my sarcoma treatment
My sarcoma treatment required surgery at a local hospital in Missouri, 25 rounds of radiation at MD Anderson and a second surgery at MD Anderson. This surgery lasted more than 6 hours. The tumor bed was removed, along with some lymph nodes, some muscle from my leg and a large area around the initial location of the tumor. Fatty tissue from my stomach was removed and placed near my right hip to fill in the hole. In addition, some muscle was removed from my stomach and used to replace that which was removed from my leg.
After my surgery, I was unable to clean myself after using the restroom, change my clothes or bathe on my own. I was extremely limited in what I could do. Growing more independent at college had been a great feeling. However, being in the hospital and not even being able to clean up after using the restroom was degrading, to say the least.
But one nurse helped me with this. I met Cheryl Manatring shortly after my surgery. We connected right away.
By Madylan Eskridge
When Reza Mehran, M.D., isn't in the operating room, he's flying a twin engine plane or helicopter. When he's not taking to the skies, he may be scuba diving or hunting for dinosaur fossils.
His colleagues liken him to a Renaissance man, but he humbly attributes his extraordinary resume to his affinity for new things and new places.
For example, Mehran studied what appeared to be a tumor on the left scapula of a gorgosaurus dinosaur in Houston's Museum of Natural History. Turns out, the growth was a callus, which implied this dinosaur had suffered a bone-breaking injury. Mehran's discovery gave scientists a unique perspective on this creature's ability to heal and survive. He'll continue pursuing paleontology this summer when he participates in a fossil dig in South Dakota.
"I'm an old-fashioned adventurer," Mehran says. "If I had lived in the 16th century, I probably would've sailed the world searching for unexplored lands."
Thanks to recent developments in the medical field, more and more people are surviving and thriving after cancer treatment. However, patients who undergo this rigorous process can experience uncomfortable side-effects years after treatment, such as lymphedema. While researchers are identifying solutions to these side-effects, patients need to know there are methods available to help them cope with lymphedema.Lymphedema symptoms
Lymphedema occurs when the body's lymph system has been damaged or blocked. It is typically caused by an abnormal flow of protein-rich lymphatic fluid into the arm or leg. The flow of lymphatic fluid flowing into the arm or leg should be equal to that flowing out. Lymphedema develops when the amount of lymphatic fluid entering the area is greater than what is coming out, causing blockage and swelling. It is most common in patients who are overweight, had axillary surgery and radiation, a large number of lymph nodes removed, or developed an infection after surgery.
By Sarah Hines, Social Work Counselor
"Happy is the person who knows what to remember of the past, what to enjoy in the present, and what to plan for in the future." - Arnold H. Glascow
It's normal for patients and loved ones to get caught up in "planning mode" during cancer treatment. However, it is important not to forget the joy of living.
Planning for the Future
Here are some tasks you might consider as you plan for your or your loved one's future:
•Medical Decision-Making: Do you have a clear understanding of your diagnosis, treatment plan, current medications and prognosis? Keep a running list of questions for your multi-disciplinary team. Visit the Learning Center for up-to-date educational materials from reputable resources.
Have you had a discussion with your loved ones about your end-of-life decisions? Complete Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will documents. Social Work can assist with these documents.
By Ashley Smith
There are few positive words associated with cancer. It's hard, it's hectic, it's nerve wracking, and it consumes your life. As a caregiver, I found myself at a loss for how I was supposed to approach cancer after my then-fiancé, Austin, received his testicular cancer diagnosis. (Don't worry, we didn't break up. In fact, we got married.)
Twenty-four hours after Austin checked in to MD Anderson, I came up with a hashtag that I could use to share our experiences with our family and friends on social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Using the hashtag would allow our friends to see all of our posts about Austin's cancer journey in one place. As an almost-tech-savvy 24-year-old, I was looking for a way to document Austin's testicular cancer treatment without being depressing. I began taking sometimes goofy, sometimes serious, but always informative pictures.
Here are some of the photos we shared with the world on our journey, our own little hash tag to share our #MDAadventures:
By Madylan Eskridge
Intellectual and technical challenges keep the work of a research nurse interesting. But Lisa Marsh says the journey with her patients is one of her favorite things about her job.
"The 'ah-ha' moment when the trial results are discovered is exciting," says Marsh, research nurse supervisor, Infectious Diseases. "But my role allows me to interact with patients on trials for several months, or even years, and the relationships I build with them are especially rewarding."
Following protocol on protocols during clinical trials
Every clinical trial for cancer treatment follows a detailed plan called a protocol. Managing the clinical and operational aspects of protocols is a primary responsibility for Marsh and her fellow research nurses.
By Stephanie Schmidt
I'm pretty accustomed to Transportation Security Administration agents, little clear bags with less than 3.2 oz. of fluid, pat downs, bag searches, the mad rush to place all of your items into those plastic bins before putting them through the scanner, etc., but as a caregiver, traveling with a cancer patient was completely new to me.
A million questions raced through my mind as my dad and I prepared to fly to Houston for his colon cancer treatment. Do we need a doctor's note explaining that he cannot go through typical security scanning machines? Will other people be pushy and impatient, as it takes longer for us to go through security checks? The list goes on.
After numerous trips to and from MD Anderson, I'd consider myself a seasoned pro. Here's my advice for any other caregivers preparing to travel to Houston with a loved one for cancer treatment:
Arrive earlier than you typically would.
Everything takes longer than you think it is going to, from checking in for a flight to waiting for TSA assistance for a wheelchair.
Connect on social media
- How social work counselors help our cancer patients
- Night watch: Our Nocturnal Program teams work dusk 'til dawn
- How we're helping stem cell transplant patients stay active
- How Rehabilitation Services helps our cancer patients
- How our skybridge cart drivers build connections
- How a nurse helped me through my sarcoma treatment
- More than a thoracic surgeon: Reza Mehran, M.D., cancer survivor and old-fashioned adventurer
- 8 tips for coping with cancer-related lymphedema
- The patient paradox: Planning for the future, while living in the moment
- #MDAadventures: My husband's testicular cancer journey
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