Cancer centers accredited by the American College of Surgeons’ commission on cancer now have to screen patients for emotional stress – and refer them to counseling if needed.
The new requirement comes out of a growing body of research on the impact of emotional stress on the health outcomes of cancer patients.
Carolyn Deputy is clinical director of the Cancer Care Connection – an organization based in Newark, Delaware that provides counseling for people affected by cancer. The licensed clinical social worker said when patients are faced with a scary diagnosis they are often overcome with worry and anxiety. “That emotion sometimes can paralyze someone, they are so worried about what might come that they can’t make a good decision for themselves,” she explained. “With counseling, what we are able to do is help them create the space to take a breath, talk about the options, and figure out what might be better.”
Mary Donohue of Wilmington comes to the Cancer Care Connection for counseling sessions with Deputy. Donohue calls herself a “cancer veteran.” Diagnosed at 33 with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, she also survived two bouts of breast cancer. She’s 67 now, and said the constant worry has taken a toll. “You always have that fear, you live under the specter of the second shoe is going to drop,” she said.
Donohue works full-time, and said sometimes, balancing the demands of her illness, family, and job can become too much.
“I ended up with this paralyzing depression, and it was my oncologist who said ‘I think you need to talk with somebody,’ and it has made a world of difference.”
Donohue said she has learned new coping skills to deal with her illness-related anxieties, and just unburdening herself during her counseling sessions has made her life a lot easier.
Many hospitals and cancer centers have screened patients for emotional distress, and offered counseling, but experts say the new requirement will standardize emotional counseling in cancer care, and make it more readily available.