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Asking for Help After a Serious Health Diagnosis

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Published on August 14, 2014

Asking for support while coping with a life-threating illness can be very difficult for some patients. How do you put together a healthcare team? Yolanda Patton, a clinical social of worker at City of Hope, helps patients and their families to recognize when and how to reach out for help.

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Transcript | Asking for Help After a Serious Health Diagnosis

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:

Hello and welcome to Patient Power. I’m Andrew Schorr. Well, facing a cancer diagnosis may be one of the toughest things you ever do, but you are not alone. When do you speak up? When do you ask for help from other, even from professionals? We get some guidance on that. We’re joined by a clinical social worker at City of Hope, and that’s Yolanda Patton.

Yolanda Patton:           

Well, of course, building that relationship with patients, I think a lot of time depending on the generation and the population that we’re serving, this is not something that is allowed. Or it’s not okay to say, I’m having trouble dealing with this or coping with this. So sometimes we just have to build that relationship.

We’re constantly interacting with the patient. And as soon as they have what we consider a bad day, then they’re able to open up to us and really say, you know, I’m having a hard time with this; I don’t want to be a burden to my family. What can I do? I’m anxious. They become very tearful. They feel like they’re tearful for no reason.

But the reality is this is a process, and this hurts. It hurts to be in a situation where you feel like you can’t be man of the house or the wife who’s able to work full time, take care of the kids and be the perfect spouse. Like, a lot of these processes change and so, it really comes down to redefining your role and how much you can take on anymore.

And so a lot of it is discussing those things and how to get to that point and also how to encourage patients to get there. So it’s a lot of empowerment. It’s also a lot of giving them dignity and self-worth to be able to give them that space to dialogue with us.

So a lot of times, it may not be us saying anything but just giving them an opportunity to vent. And then, once they start hearing themselves, a lot of time they can identify for themself and from there, we work through a plan.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay, so a patient realizes that they’re getting a little weak in the knees, if you will, a little shaky. And it’s not just something related to a medicine. They need some support. Who do they start the conversation with?

Yolanda Patton:           

They can talk to their doctor. They can talk to their nurse practitioner. Usually, the social workers here are the first line. So as soon as these conversations start to come up or they’re mentioned in their medical appointments, we’re contacted immediately, and we talk with the patients.

And we spend a good amount of time, up to an hour just assessing the whole situation. And we’re not just looking at, you know, if they’re presenting with anxiety, but really the full spectrum of things. Who’s your family? How are things financially?

Because if we’re not meeting their basic needs, they’re not going to discuss with us their emotional issues that come up. We have to be able, if they want to make sure they’re eating and they have a house or a roof over their head, there’s no way a patient’s going to inform us of any emotional barriers as well. So sometimes those are the more common issues, just meeting basic needs that are causing more anxiety than even the treatment itself.

Andrew Schorr:

Yolanda, what are some of the coping strategies?

Yolanda Patton:

Probably meditation and breathing is probably first. That’s important. And then if patients tell me they have difficulty sleeping, then a lot of times, it’s setting up a routine for yourself. Well, are you reading anything before you go to sleep? Is there a spiritual aspect for you that helps, prayer, meditation?

And a lot of times, that helps, even just having tea, depending on what treatment can look like, and if that’s okay, that means a lot of time, if you have caffeine, so just things like that. And so, a lot of patients are able to just, we practice breathing exercises first, depending on how anxious they are.

And then, sometimes, we can refer them if they need additional support, to psychology and whether that’s here at the hospital or referred out, someone in their community.

And then the next step, as soon as we get more symptoms and stable for patients, depending on how severe the anxiety or depression can be, then that’s when we go to support groups or creating a support network.

Andrew Schorr:

Thanks once again to Yolanda Patton for being with us and for her devotion to helping support all of as patients. I’m Andrew Schorr. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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