Integrative cancer care: Perspectives from unsung heroes

[10 MIN READ]

Finishing cancer is an ongoing marathon that requires clinical precision to identify the best care plan for every individual. It’s a disease that affected nearly two million Americans in 2020. Unfortunately, more than 606,000 of those who were battling cancer lost the fight last year. At Providence alone, clinical experts engaged with more than 700,000 patients in 2020. Despite the oft-dire outcomes, more nearly 17 million patients survived cancer in 2019, and that number is projected to increase to 22.2 million by 2030.

While clinical oncologists take the lead on patient treatment plans, there is a diverse team of caregivers that contribute to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of every patient who comes to Providence seeking care. This vision of holistic care also extends to those who care for cancer patients as their health is vital to the overall treatment plan.

In this article, we are shining a spotlight on a couple of experienced heroes who played a critical role in helping patients cope, navigate, and in many instances finish cancer. Below we’ve captured some insights and stories from a dietitian and physical therapist who have been part of an integrated team to help patients in Southern California finish cancer. 

Read on to learn about their approach to world-class care and the impact they’ve had on patient outcomes.

  • Meet Rémy Peters. She’s part of an integrative care program focused on helping patients beat cancer.  In her words: “I am the dietitian here at the Providence Disney Family Cancer Center”,  so my role is helping people, through diet and lifestyle,  to navigate the challenges they face during treatment, but also to avoid recurrence of cancer and to stay as well as possible through cancer. My goal is to teach people how to utilize foods as their medicine; their means to a healthy lifestyle."
  • Meet Cheryl Pranskevich. She’s also part of the integrative cancer care program Providence Disney Family Cancer Center. In her words: “In 2008, I was asked to lead this oncology rehabilitation program. I was very hesitant to do that because I had had cancer in the past, and I didn't know if I could work full time with just cancer patients. After six months I said yes and now Thrivers battling cancer are my favorite group of patients to work with, hands down.”

An integrative approach to cancer care

(Remy) “I think cancer care here at Providence is incredibly unique because we offer integrative services as a complement to a healthy lifestyle in general as well as another layer of healing for those in treatment. For overall health, our classes and workshops are offered to the community and for our Thrivers (which is how we refer to those battling to overcome cancer).” 

“We offer group mindfulness and motion classes such as Yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Guided Imagery and Sound Therapy. Integrative therapies such as acupuncture, acupressure, massage, and hypnotherapy are also part of our services as well as nutrition classes and healthy weight workshops. We also encourage our Thrivers to connect with each other to share stories and learn new ways of eating healthier so they can flourish.” 

“For a psychosocial component, we enable patients to meet with a social worker, they can also join cancer support groups. At the end of the day, there is healing in the camaraderie. Exposure to different insights and perspectives, not only from their doctors and nurses, but from a yoga instructor, therapeutic musician, dietitian, or a social worker; these are the experiences not written in the pamphlets. This kind of integrative approach helps establish connections that make patients feel that they aren’t alone.”

(Cheryl) “Providence is fortunate to have active tumor boards. The pathologists, oncologists, surgeons, and those involved in genetics, work collectively to make recommendations to optimize the patient’s care and outcomes. It is the Nurse Navigators that lead the tumor boards and navigate the many needs of the patients. These needs may include social services, nutrition, physical therapy, occupational therapy or yoga, among other things.

"When I hear the word cancer, the three words that come to my mind are life, love and gratitude" - Cheryl Pranskevich

Meet Maria Lopez-Carale. Maria is a physical therapist who has been at Providence for 21 years. She overcame breast cancer and lung cancer, and gave back by starting the cancer rehab program at Providence. In her words: “It felt empowering. It felt like I had beat cancer.”

Listening leads to productive partnerships

(Remy) “When I am taking on a new Thriver, I really want to hear their story; I want to learn about how they were diagnosed, or where they grew up, how they are feeling, not just give them dietary guidance. It's definitely a relationship that builds, and while they have their social worker, nurses, or other support system, I appreciate that I am able to add another level of connection.”

(Cheryl) “With breast cancer patients, I'm treating an intimate part of their body. They cry, they get mad, and I adjust my treatment approach to meet their needs. We never wanted to join this cancer club, and ‘members’ understand fear a lot differently than other people do. When they speak to me, they're not afraid to ask me anything and I try to create a safe place for them.”

(Remy)  “In 2014, after listening to patient needs we decided to start a survivorship program for Providence cancer patients where we are able to offer and introduce these integrative therapies as part of the treatment plan.  Our Thrivers really appreciate the convenience of one central location, where their doctor may be on one floor, a social worker, dietitian, acupuncturist, or yoga class on another. This is a unique opportunity and takes the stress out of having to travel across town to different facilities, especially in LA.”

Meet Ali McNeeley. Ali is a mother who battled and won a bout with colon cancer. She looks at her cancer journey as a life lesson. In her words: “Providence said you have these options, this is how we’ll treat this; we can cure this. I felt very supported.”

Establishing human connections is what it’s all about

(Remy) “Being a dietitian, my patients and I are discussing food and diet habits, but often end up talking about a lot of other topics that nourish the soul. I have a rule in my mind,  I want everyone to walk out of my office with a hopefulness; a joyful bounce in their step; a belief that they can conquer this.”

“A scripture comes to mind from Proverbs – “anxiety weighs down a man's heart, but a cheerful word lifts him up” .… Leaving patients with a cheerful word during these conversations, as a smile comes to their face… that's really what this is all about… HOPE.”

Meet Brendan. He’s a teacher and professional musician who battled prostate and jaw cancers. Brendan couldn’t wait to get back to laughing with his students. In his words: “I am enormously grateful for the staff at Providence for making me well.”

(Remy) “There’s one story that sticks out to me. This patient comes bounding into my office with a twinkle in her eye …she is holding a white Starbucks cup and says ‘guess what’, as she turns and extends the cup for me to see, the name written on it is ‘Cancer Free’. I can only imagine her walking into that shop and answering the question, ‘what’s your name’…. and she says, ‘Cancer Free!’ This was a precious moment for me, I knew she was so excited to share it with me, and her elation will be engrained in my heart forever.”

(Cheryl) “I had cancer, but I don't always share that with the patients. Initially, I did, but now I'm more selective when I talk about it. But if someone's very afraid of what's going to happen, I say, look at me and here I am. “We (cancer patients) have a philosophy that is to celebrate every moment…always."

"I once told a patient who was very nervous not to let anxiety steal her time. She said it was the best advice. I tell my patients to celebrate and to appreciate every moment. When you're a cancer patient, you realize that there's an end to things. You think about that, especially if you have children or you're married.”

Meet Claudia Abadia. She didn’t let stomach cancer derail her life as a mother and yoga instructor. In her words: “Providence had my back. I knew they had an army of doctors and caregivers that were working to find a cure.”

Whole person care is the best form of treatment

(Remy) “I like to encourage patients to invite their family members or whoever is on their internal support team, to consultations or classes, because I want them all to hear how to best care for their loved one, and even gain some knowledge for themselves. Caregivers often neglect their own care and it is just as important for them to become and remain as healthy as they can.”

(Cheryl) “At our site at the Providence Disney Family Cancer Center oncology rehabilitation department,  we're fortunate to be able to see our patients throughout the continuum of care – from diagnosis to the end of one’s life. We see patients before surgeries and we will be on board to treat them for the remainder of their life for whatever needs arise, which are numerous.”

“We also look at the caregiver as a survivor and it's very, very important to help keep them well. They're almost overlooked because all the attention goes to the patient, but sometimes the caregivers are really, really suffering. They’re trying to pay bills and deal with insurance and all these medical appointments and the health of someone that they care so dearly about. We also have the Nurse Navigators and support groups help the caregivers as well. There’s an enormous amount of people that help get the patients through their journey.”

Meet Tracy Weintraub. She is a wife and mother who battled breast cancer while helping her husband and daughter navigate their own cancer journeys. In her words: “I felt I was in such good hands and I felt blessed.”

We hope these insights from some of these unsung heroes of integrative cancer care and the patient stories who shared their personal cancer journeys will give you hope that together we can chart a path to truly #FinishCancer.

Learn more about Providence efforts in Southern California to finish cancer here.

 

About the Author

Kelby has spent the last five years leading the content strategy, editorial programming, and brand storytelling for Providence. He's a connector with a passion is finding the cultural and expert insights that can be turned into relevant and helpful stories that help people live happy and healthy lives.

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