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Above & Beyond Cancer Treatment: Supportive & Palliative Care

June 05, 2015
Marlene Quinlan consults with a patient

Eric is the first to admit he has phobias about doctors, hospitals, and needles. So when he underwent treatment for throat cancer at the D’Amour Center for Cancer Care, he presented a particular challenge to the team responsible for his care.

“When I go to the doctor, even to draw blood, I pass out. Even walking into a hospital I get lightheaded and I have to sit down immediately,” he said.

The Baystate Regional Cancer Program’s Supportive & Palliative Care Service uses a team approach to compassionately treat the whole patient, including everything from nutritional needs to pain management to counseling if needed. This helps ensure patients are better able to complete the full treatment regimen during the prescribed timetable.

The team includes a radiation oncologist, a supportive and palliative care physician, a clinical dietitian, and a social worker, as well as other experts who are available when needed.

Hypnosis Helped

Eric benefited not only from the chemotherapy and radiation treatment he received, but from the insight of the supportive care team, including social worker Marlene Quinlan, who recommended he undergo hypnosis to help him better cope with his medical fears.

Eric said, “The hypnosis was probably one of the most valuable tools I was given.”

Part of his care required that he be fitted with a mask – a procedure he dreaded – to more accurately map out his radiation treatment. Eric said hypnosis helped him cope with wearing the mask during the seven weeks of 30-minute treatments by imagining he was relaxing on the boat he owns.

“I met with doctors and a dietitian each week,” Eric said. “They would tell me what to expect and not just ask me how I felt. I knew they were there to pick me up if I fell down.”

Supportive Care Essential

Dr. Wilson Mertens, vice president and medical director of Cancer Services, calls the supportive care service the “active ingredient in the recipe to ensure that patients get through their treatment on time.”

He said, “Unplanned breaks in treatment can have a major negative impact on patients’ overall outlook, as well as on the effectiveness of treatment itself. Our supportive care service is absolutely instrumental in ensuring that our rates of completion are world class.”

When Eric’s treatments ended, he continued to receive assistance from the supportive care team, including Dr. Lucinda Cassells, supportive and palliative care physician, who helped him cope with the after-effects of radiation therapy.

Cassells said patients appreciate the sense of security they feel knowing that the team provides an extra layer of monitoring and is working hard to manage their pain and other issues.

“We help pick up on problems and make sure people are well positioned to get through treatment. We provide them with information, answer their questions, and address their fears,” she said.

“For me, the team worked like tools in my toolbox. They helped get me through,” Eric said.