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VCU Massey Cancer Center


Chat on the emotional side of healing

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Egidio Del Fabbro, M.D.

The Emotional Side of Healing was the subject of ABC News National Health’s weekly Twitter chat this past week, and patients, caregivers and clinicians were all asked to weigh-in on this area of interest. VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Egidio Del Fabbro, M.D., program director of palliative care, and Danielle Noreika, M.D., medical director of inpatient palliative care services, provided expert commentary as the moderator posed a series of questions and discussion topics. 

Below is a recap of the chat. Some of the responses have been slightly altered to provide context that could not fit into the original 140-character tweets. Be sure to follow @VCUMassey on Twitter to keep up with Massey’s latest groundbreaking research and clinical trials, learn about patient and caregiver resources and find out about volunteer and philanthropic opportunities while connecting with others who share similar interests and life experiences.

What are the most common emotions people experience when ill? Why? How do they manifest?

Fear and anxiety are very common emotions to have in regard to illness, the unknown and what the future holds. Physician and family support is important for helping to absorb all of the medical information.

What are some standard ways of coping with these emotions? What has helped you to cope?

Coping with emotions should be managed with an interdisciplinary approach, never focused solely on medication. As part of Massey’s palliative care team, we have psychologists, chaplains, social workers and nurses who provide emotional support. Care and support should be individualized to a patient's and family's specific needs. Always talk to your oncologist if you feel like you need more support with how you or your family are coping with your illness.

It’s not just the patient who experiences emotional distress. What about family and loved ones?

Patients should include family in visits with physicians for support and to make sure their concerns are addressed. Caregiver burnout is also an issue at times and can be evaluated for and addressed by oncology and palliative care teams.

How can doctors help patients and their families with what they go through? In what ways was your doctor helpful or not?

The most important thing is for doctors to ask their patients and families how they are coping so that they can identify distress. Patients and families should be empowered to tell their physicians about their emotional, spiritual and social support needs.

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Danielle Noreika, M.D.

What is palliative care? Is it a way to address the emotional side of illness? How do you ask for it or find a provider?

Palliative care is a field of medicine that combines multiple disciplines to care for the total needs of the patient. Massey Cancer Center has a robust palliative program available to support patients with life-limiting illnesses. Palliative care specialists and teams can care for patients at any stage of the illness, not just end of life. Ask your doctor for a referral if you think palliative or supportive care services could be helpful to your family. Palliative care helps with support of patients and families as well as physical and emotional symptoms. No need to choose between living longer or living better— research shows palliative care does both. These care teams should include social workers, chaplains, volunteers, physical therapists, occupational therapists and psychologists working together for patient care. Palliative care can be available in outpatient clinics, so ask your doctor if you believe a referral would be helpful.

Is depression seen along with a serious illness? Did you experience this? What's the best approach to recognizing and treating it?

Depression is common and should be screened for in patients with serious illness. It can impact how other symptoms are managed, like pain, nausea, shortness of breath, etc. Palliative care teams may include psychologists who can help patients with symptoms of depression. Families and caregivers may have increased strain caring for patients who have depression.

What are some other forms of coping with the emotional impact of illness? Any research to show that these work? What works for you?

Some of our patients turn to faith and spirituality in times of distress and the love and support of their families. Patients and physicians should avoid the use of medications alone to address emotional symptoms of illness.

Let's share resources. What resources do you have for treating the whole person? What has helped you?

Massey has an award-winning, internationally recognized palliative care program integrated within its oncology care. Getting the right support is crucial to your treatment plan. Patients and families should ask their doctors about available resources to meet their needs.

Written by: Melissa Mitchell

Posted on: February 27, 2015

Category: Research

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