Can you suggest resources for a cancer survivor who works with cancer patients?
February 23, 2011 5:32 PM   Subscribe

My SO is a speech therapist/speech pathologist at a major hospital, and her department specializes in cancer patients. This can take a quite a toll on her, but the impact has worsened following her own skin cancer diagnosis last year. I was wondering if there were any books, websites, programs or resources designed to help healthcare providers deal with working with these kinds of cases, and perhaps also ones to deal with dealing with cancer diagnoses.

My significant other has been a speech pathologist for about 10 years, and frequently sees cancer patients facing all sorts of debilitating/disfiguring/disheartening issues. It can be hard, but in the past she has been able to relieve some of that emotional burden by taking pride in how she is frequently able to make these patients' lives better, or at least more comfortable.

However, this changed when she was diagnosed with skin cancer about year ago. One of the challenges I think everyone in the healthcare field faces is seeing some of the worst case scenarios played out time and time again, so when you face some issue, your mind immediately jumps to that possibility. (Everyone deals with this to some degree, I'm sure, but often we less informed people don't actually know how bad it can really get. Most of us probably think of, I assume, dying or some common ailment, but don't know about things like necrotizing fasciitis, to pick a random example.) She admits that her catastrophic thinking can be a real problem, but I think she sometimes fails to catch the process soon enough.

Her cancer was caught early, quickly treated and has shown no signs of recurring. However, because it presented while she is still relatively young (early 30s), she has become extremely concerned about the potential for recurrence, which the doctor has assured her is fairly low, provided she takes appropriate precautions. (Her parent had a similar issue at the same age, and has not had a recurrence either.) She recognizes this is an irrational fear (aren't they all?), but it still haunts her.

I think a great deal of her stress stems from being unable to distance herself from her own cancer experience by virtue of working with cancer patients day in and day out.

I tried searching for books on helping healthcare providers deal with the stress of working with suffering people, but the amount of information out there and my own ignorance makes it really hard to figure out where to start. I'm looking for books, websites, DVDs, anything really that might help her learn techniques to deal with the stress of her healthcare job and her own recovery.

I've already suggested a seeing a therapist/counselor and/or talking to her boss, but she wants to explore a little on her own before she takes that step. I'd like to help her start that process. Any and all help is appreciated.

[Submitted anonymously because I'm trying to avoid making this sensitive issue public without her consent.]
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not suggesting this from the religion aspect (though if that's helpful good too), but I'd suggest talking to a chaplain and asking for resources. They deal with the whole range of illness and deal with all kinds of faiths as well. Generally they aren't like in the movies and will be able to suggest books, support groups, etc.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:50 PM on February 23, 2011

Her hospital probably has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that she could access for assistance. These are usually a contracted, confidential service. They are able to provide resources (much as with the chaplain, although it doesn't require divulging personal information/vulnerability to a coworker) for dealing with personal issues, and many programs cover a few counseling/therapy sessions.

If I were her boss, this would be what would recommend to her.
posted by jeoc at 6:02 PM on February 23, 2011

personal, professional, and health issues, is what I meant to say.
posted by jeoc at 6:03 PM on February 23, 2011

The American Cancer Society may know of some publications for healthcare workers. 800-ACS-2345. You can also view their books for sale.
posted by elpea at 7:28 PM on February 23, 2011

ACOR has several disease-specific mailing lists and some for care-givers. I am not aware of any for healthcare professionals hosted on ACOR. There are some resources for oncology health-care professionals here.

It was really useful for me to be a member on one of the ACOR lists when I was going through treatment for lymphoma since I could not find information or talk to other real-life patients (since mine was a rare variant). However, I found it extremely depressing when I was in remission, and I feel bad saying this -- existing members would disappear followed by sad announcements by family members, someone would have a relapse etc -- it felt like I was letting it take over my life even during remission, so I stopped being a member.

I guess what I'm trying to say (since you mentioned her own recovery) is that if she has not had a recurrence, getting into books, DVDs and more information about her own condition may not be a good idea. However, seeing a therapist would be the best way to help her separate her feelings about her past condition from her current work.
posted by prenominal at 8:04 PM on February 23, 2011

There's something that psychotherapists have identified as "vicarious trauma," where the helping professional (usually a psychotherapist, but I can see how other types of professionals could easily experience the same thing) sort of absorbs the trauma of the client and begins to experience trauma reaction type symptoms themselves. It feels similar enough to what you're describing that I want to recommend this book, which has concrete advice and solutions (that would be helpful for even just general burnout and overwhelm from working what is really a difficult, emotionally taxing job!): Help for the Helper.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:05 PM on February 23, 2011

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