Together We Can -- Newsletter of the Joan Karnell Cancer Center

Winter 2008

Are You Living Well?
Message from the Administrator
Kicking the Habit
Reaching Out
How You Can Help
Recent Events
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Are You Living Well?

The Joan Karnell Cancer Center offers older cancer patients a one-of-a-kind program.

Approximately 60 percent of all cancers occur in patients older than age 65. As the population continues to age and we see increases in the number of people over age 65 and over age 85, the number of older adults receiving cancer care is also expected to increase.

And, as many older adults already know, they often have different social and economic situations than their younger counterparts — situations that can impact their ability to access optimum medical care.

"Older cancer patients face many of the same issues that their younger counterparts do but more so," says David Mintzer, MD, Chief, Section of Hematology/Oncology, Pennsylvania Hospital. "They may have coexisting medical conditions, fixed incomes, or perhaps less family support."

The Living Well Program helps provide resources for:

  • Financial concerns
  • Transportation issues
  • Medication/insurance processes
  • In-home support
  • Emotional support

Learn more about the Living Well Program >>

To help older patients address additional issues like these, the Joan Karnell Cancer Center offers the Living Well program. Designed for patients aged 65 and older, the program is a real, tangible resource to help patients deal with a number of social and psychological factors that may be impacting their cancer care. It is one of a limited number of programs of its kind in the country with a dedicated social worker (funded by the Harrison Fund) who seeks solutions tailored to individual patient's needs.

Helping You Find Resources
"If you've never had cancer or had a family member who has had cancer, dealing with the diagnosis and treatment may be difficult, not just medically but in terms of logistics, finances and other issues," says Dana Marcone, geriatric oncology social work specialist. "You may not be aware of the many resources that are available to help you. And that's where I fit in. It's my job to know what programs and services exist that could help you."

Sarah Kagan, PhD, RN, Professor of Gerontological Nursing, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, is one of the world's leading authorities on the care of older adults with cancer and an advisor to the program. She says, "Many older patients have other chronic problems and functional needs related to their current health status, beyond having cancer. A program like Living Well can help not only manage the many aspects of care but also the logistics of getting through the health care system."

And, the program is not just for cancer patients. Caregivers are also encouraged to participate. "I do a lot of work helping to support caregivers," says Marcone. "I can help them get physician referrals, if they need them, or put them in touch with various types of support groups tailored to their needs."

Understanding Your Needs
It's this type of help — care that transcends your ability to get the best possible medical care — that the Cancer Center sought to offer when it developed the program. "We saw a real need to provide additional help for our older patients," says Helen Grosky, oncology social worker. "Not only do we have a number of programs right here that people may not be aware of but Dana is in touch with many others that, for the right patient, may be able to provide help."

"That's the real difference with the Living Well program at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center," says Kagan. "The staff is very sensitive to the fact that older patients' needs and concerns might be different. In fact, for some older adults, having cancer may not be their most pressing concern. The care of an ailing spouse or other family member, for example, may be their number one priority."

"The best advice I can give you," continues Kagan, "is to ask for what you need. Whatever it is, regardless of how silly or trivial it may seem to others, ask for it. Maybe you want the doctor to explain a procedure to your daughter after it is explained to you. Or perhaps there are other things that would help ease your stress. Whatever those things are, ask for them. And if you don't know what to ask for or which questions to ask, say that to your nurse or your social worker so they can identify resources and answers that may be useful and reassuring."

Marcone agrees. "The Living Well program is here to help you guide your treatment in a way that makes sense for you. We're here to help you get the kind of treatment experience you want and to help you cope with any additional stresses that may be impacting your treatment."

More than 175 patients are currently enrolled in the program. Patients are typically referred by a nurse or doctor, but can also request to meet with a social worker to find out more about the program. For more information, you can also call 215-829-6466 or visit the Living Well web site.


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