The best cancer care focuses on both health and well-being

Contributing columnistJuly 27, 2013 

Being diagnosed with cancer is frightening. Receiving treatment can be an experience that challenges even the most positive, resolute patient, as well as their caregivers.

Nationally, cancer care is trending toward a more global approach to caring for patients — one that involves caring for the body, mind and spirit. Creating an overall healing environment has become an important element in improving both patient and caregiver satisfaction, and more importantly, well being.

From music therapy programs and placing local art throughout cancer care areas in colors that are calming and inspiring to bringing therapy dogs for visits with patients, improving cancer care is about more than just offering the best medical treatment.

Creating a healing environment for cancer patients can help alleviate stress, improve their care experience and can make them feel better.

While receiving chemotherapy infusions, for example, patients may be visited by a therapy dog through programs such as Love on a Leash, a national nonprofit.

When the dogs visit, patients feel comforted and relaxed.

Many cancer facilities have also worked hard to create a healing environment aesthetically.

Incorporating carefully selected local artwork throughout a facility serves a greater purpose than just creating a comfortable beautiful place. At Saint Joseph East, for example, artwork was selected by considering the healing powers of the colors used in each piece. Works with purple, an anti-nausea color, were placed in treatment areas. The art also provides a distraction for both patients and caregivers, who can also be under a tremendous amount of stress.

Cancer support programs also help address the emotional well-being of the patient and their caregiver. Some even incorporate music to create a fun environment that relieves stress and encourages interaction with others.

Continuing to focus on both the health and well being of patients is important once patients have finished their treatment as well. Following chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, patients can be referred to a cancer rehabilitation program, like the STAR program at Saint Joseph Hospital. The program uses a multidisciplinary approach including physical and occupational therapy, diet and speech therapy and more depending on the patient's needs. The team works with the patient to help them regain any abilities or functions they may have lost as a result of their cancer treatment. The goal is always to improve their quality of life and get them back to the things they enjoy.

Although the impact of art, music and even pet therapy on cancer patients is poorly defined, from a doctor's perspective there does seem to be a correlation between a patient having a good attitude and achieving a good outcome from care. There is little clinical data to support the idea, but we see it every day.

A good attitude does seem to help people tolerate treatments better. Patients with a better outlook and attitude may have fewer side effects from treatment or be able to deal with side effects better.

Anything we can do to reduce stress and bring comfort to people improves their quality of life, and that's important.

Dr. Donald Goodin is an oncologist with Saint Joseph Hematology Oncology, part of KentuckyOne Health.

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