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By Janie Metsker, RN, BSN, CN-BN
Many patients will tell you that battling cancer is a full-time job with little to no “down time.” This can especially be true for metastatic breast cancer patients who must cope daily with grueling treatment schedules and psychological exhaustion.
To give patients an opportunity to temporarily leave behind their treatment regimens and reflect on their personal priorities, Saint Luke’s Hospital Koontz Center for Advanced Breast Cancer (the Koontz Center) holds biannual psychosocial retreats for women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and their partners/supporters. The three-day retreat program was inspired by A Journey of Courage and Hope for Women and Women Who Support Them, a retreat held at Johns Hopkins Medicine for women with MBC and their female caregivers (e.g., daughters, mothers, sisters, friends). Similarly, the retreats at the Koontz Center were developed to support the unique needs of patients with MBC and their spouses/partners or primary caregivers/supporters.
Retreat participants and their partners are guided by a multidisciplinary oncology team that facilitates therapeutic approaches to moving through disease progression and end of life. During each retreat, approximately ten patients and their partners join semi-structured group activities that address the psychological, relational, spiritual, and fluctuating challenges of cancer diagnosis and treatment. The retreat is an opportunity to carve out personal time and share experiences removed from everyday life to better foster intimacy, communication, and social connection.
In 2018, the Koontz Center for Advanced Breast Cancer was recognized by ACCC for effectively integrating six guiding principles (enumerated below) for treating patients with MBC. ACCC recognizes the importance of understanding and addressing the unique challenges faced by patients with metastatic breast cancer. The six guiding principles developed as part of ACCC’s MBC Education Program provide a framework that cancer programs can use to assess services offered to this patient population and explore a range of models for improving care for MBC patients.
The retreats hosted by the Koontz Center incorporate interventions and activities that effectively support all six principles:
PRINCIPLE 1: Empower patients and their partners by providing knowledge and educational resources about the diagnosis. An entire group session is devoted to information about MBC.
PRINCIPLE 2: Reframe the conversation through guided group discussions on coping and preparing for disease progression, emotional response, and end of life.
PRINCIPLE 3: Reduce patient isolation through connection with others going through similar experiences.
PRINCIPLE 4: Offer logistical support by providing a no-cost therapeutic and educational opportunity to learn new ways to improve quality of life.
PRINCIPLE 5: Connect patients with support in the community by sharing resources available to people with MBC.
PRINCIPLE 6: Collaborate in the interest of patients. During the retreat, oncology staff members from the Koontz Center’s Psychology, Social Work, Nursing, and Chaplaincy Departments collaborate to provide multidisciplinary services to support retreat participants.
Discover more resources you can use to educate cancer care teams and support patients with metastatic breast cancer in the ACCC MBC Project resource library.
Janie Metsker, RN, BSN, CN-BN, is the Clinical Coordinator for Saint Luke’s Hospital Koontz Center for Advanced Breast Cancer. She navigates patients with metastatic breast cancer throughout the continuum of care. She is also the coordinator of the Koontz Center’s two annual A Journey of Courage and Hope retreats.