Incorporating mental health care with active cancer treatment

Posted at 7:03 AM, Nov 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-07 09:03:10-05

BOISE — "Spring 2014, I had bumps that were starting to appear on my neck and face and stuff, we didn’t know what it was," said David Kinnaman, a patient at St. Luke's Mountain States Tumor Institute.

What David Kinnaman thought was just a viral illness came with a different diagnosis: follicular lymphoma.

“Your life changes in an instance when you get that diagnosis of cancer," said Kinnaman.

He responded well to the chemotherapy, but cancer returned in 5 months. It was treated again and entirely with chemotherapy, but in 2018 he was diagnosed with MDS, a pre-leukemia. He was recently treated by an allogeneic transplant.

“Those around me, my friends, you discuss things with them you spend time with them, but they’re not in-depth with how you need to handle things how you should look at things all the time," said Kinnaman.

"That's what the social workers and psychiatrist, Dr. Nicole Thurston, are working to do at MSTI.

"It was really important while patients are going through a cancer journey to not just focus on their physical needs, which we’re good at, but also to focus on the mental and emotional and psychological needs our patients have," said Thurston.

They meet weekly to discuss both operations and intervention methods, like individual counseling, financial assistance, and transportation barriers.

“Being right there down the hall is way different then them saying, 'hey I'm going to refer you, I think you need help', and we know that less than 50% of patients that are referred out of primary care even specialized care even make it to the appointment," said Thurston,

"The availability of being right here under the same roof, it’s a normal part of cancer care, for me professionally but also watching patients I think it’s much less stigmatizing to have it just be a standardized part of their medical care."

Every time patients come in for active cancer treatment, they get screened for anxiety and depression symptoms.

"If they meet a certain threshold, then a social worker is automatically notified, and then ideally, they can be called to meet that patient right at that moment," said Thurston.

incorporating mental health care into cancer care is not the current norm, but those affected by cancer say it's an important component to their care.

"I’ve been up, down, cry, laugh, but just be open to let someone else in and discuss it because you need, you can’t carry it by yourself," said Kinnaman.