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Addressing the Emotional Needs of Cancer Patients

Helping someone fight cancer requires a team of experts: medical oncologists, nurses, radiologists, surgeons. For many patients, another integral member of that team is a licensed clinical psychologist, someone who can help differentiate fact from fear and help navigate the stress of cancer diagnosis and survivorship.

“I went pretty quickly from having it all together to flipping,” says Eileen Garofalo, who, at age 40, was diagnosed in January 2012 with a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. After diagnosis, Garofalosays, “All of a sudden, it’s like you’re living in a foreign country. You don’t speak the language. You’re not familiar with the surroundings. You don’t know how to find your way around.”

Garofalo and patients like her are why Siteman Counseling Service exists, says Teresa Deshields, PhD, one of three licensed psychologists who provide free, evidence-based therapy.

We see patients with any type of cancer anywhere along the continuum of care: newly diagnosed, in treatment, wrestling with survivorship, end of life,” says Deshields, whose colleagues are Mark Heiland, PhD, and Amanda Kracen, PhD. “One thing that makes our cancer center and its services different from others is that we also see family members and caregivers.”

The therapy provided by the counseling service is free, regardless of a person’s insurance status or ability to pay. Because there are no billing issues, a physician referral, while welcome, is not required.

Founded in 1999, the service is based at Siteman Cancer Center’s main location at Washington University Medical Center. Counseling and therapy services also are available at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital and Siteman Cancer Center-South County.

“We can see patients wherever they are: in the hospital, in the infusion center. I can see them in my office or in radiation,” Deshields says.

Siteman Counseling Service recently began offering more group-therapy options, including a weekly mindfulness-practice group that requires no appointment to attend and an online coping-skills class that patients may access from home.

Receiving the best medical care possible is the core of her treatment, Garofalo says, but a cancer care team also must address the psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects of living with the disease. Counseling offers a comfortable environment where she can discuss her “new normal,” Garofalo says, and where she has gained even greater trust in her medical care providers.

“Without that help, I would have been like someone who is drowning,” Garofalo says. “Dr. Kracen was the rescue swimmer I needed to help get me back to shore, to help me live my life as healthily as I can.”

For more information about Siteman Counseling Service or to make a referral, call 314-747-5587.

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