World Cancer Day 2022 : How A Nurse Counsellor Helps to Close the Care Gap

15 February 2022

Breast Cancer Nurse Counsellor Chiew Lai Yee at the Breast Care Centre in Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City

World Cancer Day’s new three-year ‘Close the Care Gap’ theme from 2022 to 2024 encourages people in all layers of society to play a part in the cancer care continuum. Identifying the need for education and awareness in closing the care gap, Sunway Cancer Centre based in Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City provides a much-needed nurse counsellor intervention to journey, educate, and advocate for patients so they feel empowered in their battle with cancer.

A nurse counsellor has a specialised and extensive clinical experience to manage patients, especially those requiring psychological support. Hence, they are like the invisible backbone needed to tackle an increasing global burden of cancer.

Meet Chiew Lai Yee, Sunway Cancer Centre’s Breast Cancer Nurse Counsellor who shares with us what she does in order to help close the cancer care gap for patients on this challenging journey.

How long have you been working as a nurse?

Chiew Lai Yee: 16 years

What inspired you to be a nurse counsellor?

Chiew Lai Yee: I enjoy knowing that I can use my empathy, compassion and knowledge to offer patients support in their most challenging times.

What was the training path like to become a nurse counsellor? 

Chiew Lai Yee: To become a nurse counsellor at Sunway Medical Centre, one has to earn their credential as a registered nurse. Then, they have to complete advanced courses specialising in specific fields such as oncology nursing before being put on the role.

Lai Yee believes her role is important as a support pillar for patients

What are some of the skills needed to be a good nurse counsellor?

Chiew Lai Yee: I think a good nurse counsellor needs to practice active listening. They need to be empathetic and understanding towards the patient; speak in a calm manner, be patient, and have a compassionate heart. 

Please describe your daily routine at work or how a day looks like for you.

Chiew Lai Yee: I help to provide additional details on the patient’s diagnosis if they or their family members do not quite understand it. I also provide information about impending surgical operations to strengthen the patient’s sense of security pre-operation, then follow up with them post-operation. I also give emotional and psychological support, and encourage patients to speak out. Most importantly, I do knowledge sharing of evidence informed practices, identify the needs of the patient to make referrals, and manage the breast cancer support group in Sunway Cancer Centre.

What makes your role different or unique as a nurse counsellor?

Chiew Lai Yee: As a nurse counsellor, I provide consistent patient support services and psycho-oncology support for our cancer patients from diagnosis to survivorship.

What is most challenging to you as a nurse counsellor? And how do you usually overcome your challenges? 

Chiew Lai Yee: The most challenging is managing patient's resistance to treatment and working with patient's emotions. I overcome this by introducing patients to a support group, where they can talk about and work through the feelings and challenges that they may experience with other patients who have gone through similar experiences.

What do you enjoy or feel fulfilled most about being a nurse counsellor? 

Chiew Lai Yee: I enjoy engaging in this work because it is meaningful and it can make a significant impact on others. 

Do you think the importance of having nurse counsellors in cancer care has changed over the years? If so, why?

Chiew Lai Yee: Beyond addressing the cancer itself, nurse counsellors are important because they provide patients with mental and emotional support, giving them strength to face their diagnosis head on. We provide a pillar of stability for them to lean on when the physical and emotional stress of cancer treatment begins to take a toll. This is probably not a very common service in the past but has become an increasing need today so patients feel empowered to continue on their cancer journey.

In your opinion, what do you think are some of the biggest gaps in cancer care for patients and how do you think your role as nurse counsellor helps to bridge these gaps? 

Chiew Lai Yee: Cancer and Psycho-oncology support is probably one of the biggest gaps in my opinion. Once diagnosed with cancer, patients often face a long and hard journey to access care, begin and complete treatment, and adapt to survivorship. During these periods of treatment, the absence of supportive care could lead to undesired outcomes such as dropping out or defaulting on treatment. This is why we provide consistent contact for our patients from diagnosis to survivorship.

Lai Yee prepares various information and brochures for her patients to educate them

What has been your most memorable encounter with a patient that needed the care of a nurse counsellor, and how did your care or skillset help them on their journey with dealing with the disease?

Chiew Lai Yee: My most memorable encounter would be a breast cancer patient who was very reluctant to go for treatment because she was fearful of chemotherapy. I took a proactive approach to help the patient overcome her fear and misinformation, by providing her with the correct information and engaging her to be part of the cancer support group. The support group gives cancer patients and their caregiver a chance to learn from and support each other.

In your opinion, what else do you think can be improved in caring for cancer patients/survivors?

Chiew Lai Yee: Maybe developing different types of support groups that offer support in different ways.