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Psychological counseling part of Siteman’s multidisciplinary cancer care

The Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center’s Counseling Service provides free, evidence-based therapy to cancer patients, their families and caregivers

November 20, 2013

Helping someone fight cancer requires a team of experts, including: medical oncologists, nurses, radiologists and surgeons.

For many patients, another integral member is a licensed clinical psychologist, someone who can help sort fact from fear and help navigate the stress of cancer diagnosis and survivorship.

“I went from having it all together to flipping out pretty quickly,” says Eileen Garofalo, who in January 2012 was diagnosed at age 49 with a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, the same rare carcinoid Apple founder Steve Jobs had. “It’s like all of a sudden you’re living in a foreign country. You don’t speak the language. You’re not familiar with the surroundings. You don’t know how to find your way around.”

Free, evidence-based therapy

Garofalo and her fellow patients are why Siteman Counseling Service exists, says Teresa Deshields, PhD, one of three licensed psychologists who provide free, evidence-based therapy at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“We see patients with any type of cancer anywhere along the continuum of care: newly diagnosed, in treatment, wrestling with survivorship, end of life,” says Deshields, who is joined by Mark Heiland, PhD, and Amanda Kracen, PhD. “One thing that makes us a little different from other cancer centers is that we also see family members and caregivers.”

No referral required

The services are free, regardless of a person’s insurance status or ability to pay. Because there are no billing issues, a physician referral, while welcomed, is not required.

The service is based at the Siteman Cancer Center’s main location, on the Washington University Medical Campus. Counseling and therapy services also are available at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital and at Siteman Cancer Center-South County.

“We can see patients wherever they are: in the hospital, in the infusion center. I can see them in my office, in radiation,” Deshields says.

Practicing mindfulness

Siteman Counseling Service recently began offering more therapy-group options, including a weekly mindfulness practice group that requires no appointment and an online coping skills class patients may access from home.

Receiving the best medical care possible is the core of Garofalo’s treatment, she said, but a cancer care team also must address the psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects of living with the disease. Counseling has provided her a comfortable environment where she can discuss her “new normal,” she said, and where she has learned to trust her medical care providers even more.

“Without that I would have been like someone who is drowning,” Garofalo said. “Dr. Kracen, for me, was the rescue swimmer I needed to help me get back to shore, to live my life in as healthy of a way as I could.”

For more information about Siteman Counseling Service or to make a referral, call 314-747-5587.