Like any major illness, cancer affects more than the body. It wreaks havoc on the lives and emotions of patients and their families. Ask Judi Evans, who was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and told she had just six months to live.
“My daughter and I looked at each other, and we said ‘no, we're not accepting that.’ So we immediately came to Huntsman Cancer Institute.”
Four years later, Judi is still fighting. There’s no cure for stage 4 cancer, so she’s needed some support. That’s where HCI social worker Angelique Colemere, LCSW, comes in.
Angelique says there’s so much more to cancer than the physical. “Whatever a patient planned life to be, now it’s completely different,” she says. “We want to provide as much support as we can. It can be an emotional roller coaster ride.”
Support can come in a variety of ways, from teaching meditation and guided breathing for relaxation to individual and family counseling. Angelique says it’s important for patients and their families to talk about what they’re going through and realize they’re not alone in their fight. She adds, “It's not just the prospect of death. It's the loss of health. It's the loss of being able to do the things you used to do. It's pain. All these things impact decisions.”
Judi says she was angry after her diagnosis. Her mother died of breast cancer, so Judi started getting yearly mammograms at the age of 35. Her cancer still went undetected until it had already spread to her stomach and colon. “It makes you angry,” she says, “because you did all the right things. You did everything you're supposed to do, and you ended up here anyway.”
Angelique is helping Judi work through that anger, and Judi says she’s grateful. “Angelique has validated a lot of my feelings. She's helped me see the reasons I want to live and find the reserve of strength that has always been there,” says Judy.
Their sessions have also helped Judi talk about cancer with her daughters, something she wishes she could have done with her mother. “I have been quite up front with my daughters,” she says. “It's never going to be easy, but I can at least make it somewhat easier than it was for me.” She says she’s grateful that group therapy with Angelique has helped her daughters want to seek more counseling on their own.
Angelique says stories like Judi’s represent the overall goal of the social worker’s role in cancer care—helping patients and their families have open communication about their struggles. “We're human, and we do have a lot of ups and downs, and cancer is big,” she adds. “Studies have shown the more support you have and the more you know, the easier it is to go through the journey.”
Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, which means it meets the highest standards for cancer research and receives support for its scientific endeavors. HCI is located on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and is a part of the University of Utah Health Care system. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and operates several high-risk clinics that focus on melanoma and breast, colon, and pancreas cancers, among others. HCI also provides academic and clinical training for future physicians and researchers. For more information about HCI, please visit www.huntsmancancer.org.