The Invisible Backbone of Cancer Care

16 February 2022

World Cancer Day’s new three-year “Close the Care Gap” theme that runs 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 at Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City, provides much-needed nurse counsellor intervention to journey, educate, and advocate for patients so they feel empowered in their battle with cancer.

In a study published by the Joanne Briggs Institute (JBI), researchers combed through various studies on adult cancer patients receiving counselling from nurses and their experiences.

They concluded that overall cancer patients’ experiences with nurse counselling are positive and beneficial. In particular, the nurses’ presence and availability, a trusting nurse-patient relationship, human touch and continuity of care were the key factors in enhancing healing.

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

Bringing To Life Integrative Cancer Care

It is well known that the main focus of consultants and nurses is on treating cancer and managing side effects. However, cancer side effects are not limited to those that are physical but extends to emotional and psychological dimensions.

The Cancer Patient Journey Survey conducted by Sunway Cancer Centre in November 2021 also reports integrative cancer care to be the most valued service by cancer survivors throughout their recovery experience.

“Once diagnosed with cancer, patients often face a long and hard journey to access care, from the start to completion of treatment, and surviving it. During these periods of treatment, the absence of supportive care can lead to undesired outcomes such as dropping out or defaulting on treatment,” said Chiew Lai Yee, a nurse counsellor from Sunway Care Centre.

With her five years of experience in breast cancer care, Chiew spends her time at work educating patients and their family members about their diagnosis and treatment options, addressing symptoms patients might be experiencing and helping patients overcome their fears.

She is able to draw a clearer picture for patients about their impending surgery and even discusses their concerns, which will ultimately increase their sense of security and confidence.

“Pre and post-operation, I spend time following up with my breast cancer patients and even making referrals if needed,” she added.

Integrated cancer care ultimately improves the quality of care delivered to the patients.

Make Connections, Provide Support 

Beyond the role of a professional caregiver, nurse counsellors are essential in helping patients effectively navigate the emotional roller coaster journey towards recovery in the form of non-physical care settings such as counselling and support services.

Dr. Heng Siew Ping, General Manager of Sunway Cancer Centre further explained: “As more cancer patients survive their diagnosis, the lingering effects of cancer treatment can give rise to new challenges such as post-treatment effects or fear of recurrence. Cancer support groups led by nurse counsellors can help patients to manage these problems.” 

A questionnaire survey of cancer survivors carried out by Sunway Cancer Centre indicates that there has been a considerable change in opinion over the past few years concerning the importance of offering cancer counselling services. 

Traditionally, cancer patients prefer the support of family and friends rather than talking to a professional. However, this has changed as more patients now prefer to share their stress confidentially and seek help and support from a nurse counsellor to improve their chances of ensuring a favourable clinical outcome.

Through nurse counsellor-led cancer support group or counselling session, nurse counsellors like Lai Yee are able to focus on what is important to the patient, playing a critical role in influencing a patient’s attitude toward cancer.

Since every patient has his or her own needs, personalised intervention is pivotal to the patient-centered approach as nurse counsellors need to provide an individualised care to help patients face their diagnosis head-on. Nurse counsellors also serves as the pillar of support when physical and emotional stresses of cancer treatment begin to take their toll. 

More Nurse Counsellors Needed

In this context, nurse counsellors are considered reflective practitioners, reflecting on their intuitive knowledge in the midst of action to cope with the unique, uncertain, and conflicted situations.

Their role can ultimately be identified through three themes: care-team member, decision coach and patient advocate. As a profession, nurse counsellor is considered one of the most challenging and rewarding as it takes a uniquely qualified individual to do the job and do it well. 

It is truly a calling, which is evident by the relationships built between the patient, family, caregivers and the nurse counsellor. In the years to come, Dr. Heng hopes that the involvement in cancer care with nurse counsellors can become a more conscious goal for more private hospitals in Malaysia.

To read the full story of nurse counsellor Chiew Lai Yee, visit our blogpost.

Source: Code Blue