Boston resident Mary Jane Gendreau was slammed by emotions when she received a diagnosis of grade 4 glioblastoma in February, just a few days shy of her 60th birthday. Within two weeks, she had surgery to remove the tumor. In her search for answers and resources, Gendreau stumbled onto the webpage for cancer coach Jeannine Walston. “I didn’t know that cancer coaches existed,” Gendreau says. “But when I read Walston’s story and saw her credentials, I knew she was the person who could help me navigate this confusing new world I was now living in.”

As she recovered and prepared for weeks of alternating radiation therapy and chemotherapy, Gendreau searched for online support groups and information about novel treatments. “My medical care team was great, but I didn’t feel like they had the time to sit with me, answer questions, explain alternative or complementary therapies or help me discern what my future might look like,” Gendreau says. “The hospital had a wall plastered with brochures, but I needed more one-on-one engagement and direction. Early on, it became clear that it was primarily my responsibility to research new studies, alternative therapies and potential clinical trials — all while I was still recovering from brain surgery.”

Jeannine Waltson – LA Cancer Coach 

In 1998, at age 24, Walston learned she had a rare type of cancerous brain tumor, oligoastrocytoma. Over the past two decades, she has undergone three brain surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, clinical trials, and integrative cancer therapies, even venturing overseas for treatments. Walston’s diagnosis changed the trajectory of her life. She embarked on a cancer-focused career path, working as a patient advocate, educator, and researcher for nonprofit organizations, the National Cancer Institute, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (now the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health). She is also a CURE® contributor.

Walston, who lives in Los Angeles, started offering her services as a cancer coach in 2007. “At that point, I had provided information to support groups, attended brain tumor and cancer conferences, and worked in the cancer field for 10 years,” she says. “Many people kept coming to me for advice and information. I wanted to help, and I knew my personal and professional experiences coaching cancer patients and caregivers addressed essential needs.”

Health and Wellness Coaching Designed for Cancer Patients

The popularity of professional coaching has grown significantly since the 1990s. There are coaches to help discern purpose in life, improve health and wellness, navigate divorce and break into a new career. Whatever the problem, there’s a coach who can offer help. In many ways, cancer coaches are a natural extension of health and wellness coaching, helping clients — mainly patients but also caregivers and other loved ones — improve quality of life throughout the cancer journey.

“Cancer coaches provide a valuable service by helping patients create goal-oriented plans that help them manage particular challenges,” says Dawn Wiatrek, interim senior vice president of patient and caregiver support for the American Cancer Society (ACS). “As soon as you receive a cancer diagnosis, so many factors are out of your control. Coaches provide needed support and guidance that help patients break down barriers and instill a feeling of confidence. They empower the patient to feel more in charge of an uncertain health situation.” Wiatrek notes that the ACS has been coaching people for years through its tobacco cessation program. “Cancer coaching is a similar idea,” she says. “You are giving someone the tools to help them navigate what seems like an insurmountable task.”

Talaya Dendy, Founder of On the Other Side Cancer Coaching in St. Paul, Minnesota, says her services save clients from putting time, effort and energy into treatment planning that would be better focused on physical and emotional healing. In fact, The ACS sees so many patient benefits to cancer coaching that the organization is using a grant to provide coach training to ACS patient navigators employed at approximately 70 cancer or medical centers nationwide, Wiatrek says. 

As employees of hospitals or cancer centers, patient navigators and oncology social workers can help schedule appointments and medical tests, as well as work with billing departments and health insurers, something cancer coaches don’t do. Navigators and social workers may steer a patient toward general information about treatments and social support networks, whereas coaches can spend more time researching and gathering information specific to a patient’s needs. Cancer coaches aren’t meant to replace patient navigators, oncology social workers or case managers, and they are quick to emphasize that they are not medical experts.

Call to Action: As a key component of the healing process, support and connection can make all the difference for those going through the immense struggle of a cancer diagnosis. If you would like to learn more about cancer coaches and whether there are any in your area, visit the American Cancer Society for additional information. You can also use Trialsite News’ concierge services if you would like help connecting.

Source: CURE

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