Patients undergoing cancer treatments need a dedicated, caring team of medical experts and loved ones to support them throughout the journey. Because cancer takes a toll on everyone it touches, these loved ones also need support. At Sentara, we’ve tailored a supportive care program that encompasses a wide range of services for patients and their caregivers.
Cancer care typically involves seeing multiple specialists and several types of treatments. This can be overwhelming, especially to patients struggling to come to terms with a diagnosis. Our cancer patient navigators offer emotional support, facilitate communication among care team members, answer questions about diagnosis, treatment and test results, and help resolve any barriers to care. These registered nurses also assist with follow-up care, ensuring survivors continue to receive necessary scans and tests.
Living Beyond Cancer Survivorship Program
The Living Beyond Cancer Survivorship Program supports patients and caregivers during the transition from active treatment to survivorship. The two-hour classes are offered in every Hampton Roads center, Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center and Sentara RMH Hahn Cancer Center. A physical or occupational therapist offers advice about safe physical activity and exercises, a registered dietitian shares tips for healthful eating and weight control, and a licensed clinical social worker teaches techniques for coping with stress, fear and anxiety. The team also provides education about resources that can ease the adjustment to life’s “new normal” as a cancer survivor.
Patients and caregivers benefit from talking to others who understand what they’re going through. However, it can be challenging to find the time and the means to get away for these much-needed conversations. To easily connect patients and caregivers, Sentara uses a variety of methods to host support groups. We offer in-person meetings at various Sentara facilities, as well as telephonic support groups and social media support groups, including secured, invite-only Facebook support groups that are overseen by patient navigators, community educators and social workers.
Diet and Nutrition
Good nutrition is key to keeping up strength, building a strong immune system and helping the body heal. Unfortunately, cancer treatments can cause nausea and diarrhea, and make foods smell and taste unappetizing. Our inpatient registered dietitians screen all Sentara hospital patients daily for signs of feeding distress, such as decreased appetite, weight loss and swallowing problems. These experts work one-on-one with patients to manage symptoms and find dietary changes that work.
Towards the end of 2016, Sentara Norfolk General Hospital dedicated one inpatient dietitian to working with patients with head and neck cancers. This dietitian works with caregivers and patients to ensure a successful transition from hospital to home for patients with feeding tubes. The dietitian also attends tumor boards and rounds with head and neck cancer specialists, providing critical expertise to physicians and nurse navigators.
For continuity of care, oncology focused outpatient dietitians are present in radiation oncology programs to continue to provide nutrition assessment and education to patients during their treatment.
Clinical Social Worker
Oncology licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) support the psychosocial needs of patients and family members through the cancer care journey, from diagnosis through survivorship. Oncology social workers at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital and Sentara RMH Medical Center provide a breadth of services, such as developing coping strategies to manage fear, anxiety and treatment side effects, helping with financial and transportation issues, providing referrals to community resources and assisting with advanced care planning.
In 2017, Sentara worked with Eastern Virginia Medical School to modify a psychosocial distress screening tool developed by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Modifications were made based on input from Sentara patients and caregivers. The tool helps nurses, oncology social workers and other care team members understand the distress a patient may be feeling and determine which patients could benefit from counseling or other types of support.
Palliative medicine takes a holistic approach to improving the quality of life for patients in active treatment and their caregivers. Research suggests that patients who use palliative care services enjoy a better quality of life. Sentara specialists introduce palliative care early in the disease treatment process to ensure patients and caregivers are aware of the resources available to them. Palliative care team members include physicians, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, dietitians and chaplains who are experts in disease treatment and symptom management. These specialists work collaboratively to meet the emotional, spiritual and psychosocial needs of both patients and caregivers. We customize services based on a patient’s values and preferences.
Hospice services are appropriate when a patient’s disease no longer responds to treatment. The goal is to offer comfort and dignity during a patient’s last phase. Hospice team members include nurses, home health aides, social workers and pastoral staff. These specialists provide patient care in a variety of settings, such as a patient’s home or an assisted-living or long-term care facility. The 12-bed Sentara Hospice House in Virginia Beach is the only facility of its kind in Hampton Roads. Here, Sentara’s hospice team provides full-time caregiving so that patients and loved ones can focus on their time together.