Clinic teaches couples to face breast cancer as a team (VIDEO)

June 28, 2013 | by


Breast cancer doesn’t affect only the woman who is diagnosed: The disease also impacts her relationships and her family. But loved ones don’t always know how to support a woman through her diagnosis and her treatment. City of Hope wants to teach them.

Experts here have developed a partners clinic to help breast cancer patients work together with their closest supporters – a spouse or other close caregiver – to tackle the disease and all its related issues together.

“We have a lot of partners who want to be there for their spouse, but don’t know the words to say or how to be of comfort,” said Laura Kruper, M.D., director of the Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Health Center and head of breast surgery service at City of Hope. She recently offered an overview of the program to hundreds of volunteers at City of Hope’s Centennial Convention. “The partners clinic is to start that dialogue between the two of them,” she said.

At the clinic, patients and their partners receive guidance from social workers Matthew Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., the Liliane Elkins Professor in Supportive Care Programs at City of Hope, and Courtney Bitz, L.C.S.W., a clinical social worker. They provide educational and psychological support prior to the patient’s first meeting with Kruper or her surgical colleague Courtney Vito, M.D., because initial surgical consultations can be very emotionally charged for patients. Counseling support is also available for couples throughout breast cancer treatment.

“We found patients and families really do appreciate getting this information early in the process so they can practice what they learned during their consultation with the surgeon,” Bitz said. The patient and partners are screened prior to their sessions so social workers can identify potential issues to work through in the sessions.

The advice for couples in the partners clinic focuses not just on the partner, but also the patient. The information shared with patients and their partners is derived both from research and clinical experience, and from feedback from couples and families who have experienced a breast cancer diagnosis.

How a partner can help the woman receiving treatment:

•    Communicate in a way that you’ll be proud of in the future.
•    Reflect before reacting to your partner.
•    Actively encourage sharing of emotional concerns and fears.
•    Listen to her concerns without trying to “fix” or minimize them.
•    Offer advice only when specifically requested.
•    Be a good listener by listening twice as much as you speak.
•    Only give reassurances that are firmly based in reality. (Such as, “You can count on me.”)
•    Be open to helping the woman with her physical post-surgery care.
•    Be physically present at all medical appointments, even when not asked.
•    Take notes and ask questions at medical appointments.
•    Learn about the illness and treatments.
•    Help the woman get through the information she needs to read.
•    Help the woman get things done when she cannot.
•    Respect and support the woman’s right to make her own decisions.
•    Remember that the woman is still a capable individual.
•    Help the woman share information with others whom she wants to keep informed.
•    Advocate for the woman if needed, whether with health care providers or family members.
•    Be open to listening to the woman expressing her concerns as long as she needs to.

How breast cancer patients get the best out of their partner or family member:

•    Reflect before reacting to your partner.
•    Be honest and direct about how you feel, especially about your fears.
•    Avoid testing your loved one – be specific about what you want from others.
•    Stay in the present – no past hurts or conflict.
•    No mind-reading. If confused about behavior, ask your partner.
•    Avoid proving points. Focusing on who is right means that you both lose.
•    Tell your partner when you need them to just listen or when you are seeking advice.
•    Respect that you and your partner might cope with things differently.
•    Access support from peers and/or professionals when needed.
•    Accept help from family members, friends, peers and professionals.

Source: City of Hope, Partner’s Guide to Managing the Challenges of Breast Cancer: It Takes a Team