Are any three words scarier than “You have cancer”? Angela
McCabe doesn’t think so. For 30+ years she’s been helping
cancer patients and their families handle the social, emotional, financial
and spiritual problems the disease can bring.
As director of psychosocial support services and community outreach for
the Cancer Program at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, McCabe knows that
cancer isn’t just malignant cells attacking normal ones. It’s
a multi-front war that can rock your life and that of your family in several
ways. Fortunately, there’s help— and that’s her expertise.
A cancer diagnosis can be “physically and emotionally exhausting,” says
Alison Grann, M.D., chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Saint Barnabas. “Part of caring for a patient—beyond chemotherapy, radiation
and surgery—is enhancing his or her overall wellness and that of
the family. To patients I say, ‘There are many resources available
for you.’ Then I give them Angela’s card.”
Dealing with the disease’s potential emotional and social impact
is key, says McCabe, who came to Barnabas Health in 1996 from Memorial
Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “Oncology social workers are knowledgeable
about cancer and about the psychosocial and other effects of disease,
treatment and survivorship,” she explains. “We can help patients
sort through feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.” And while
free services may be obtained before, during or after treatment, she adds,
“early intervention really helps. We evaluate people as early as
possible and help cancer survivors maintain or improve their quality of
Free of charge, McCabe’s program offers:
Individual and family counseling.
Oncology social workers help patients and families cope with emotional,
social and practical concerns related to having a cancer diagnosis, and
this includes financial concerns. “The unspoken stress of cancer
is the financial burden,” McCabe says. “We ask about finances
and employment-related issues, and we can offer concrete ways to help
avert crises.” Nutrition counseling. Eating right is critical because
a healthy diet can help rebuild the body’s cells, especially during
chemotherapy or radiation treatment. We have a dedicated dietitian available
to meet with patients and families.
Individualized cancer wellness program.
This combines exercise, yoga, massage therapy and nutrition to improve
the health and well-being of individuals facing cancer. “The focus
is on working to stay as fit as you can through treatment,” McCabe
says. “Even just walking may help with treatment side effects.”
People with a personal or family history of cancer are helped to understand
their familial risks. Inherited factors are assessed, with detailed education
about cancer prevention and detection and the opportunity for genetic
testing when appropriate.
A board-certified art therapist offers sessions for patients of all ages
and artistic abilities. Creative self-expression has been shown to reduce
pain and anxiety in cancer patients, increase coping skills and promote
self-esteem, feelings of empowerment and personal growth.
Holistic nurse services.
For many, these complementary services can ease the pain of the illness
or treatment side effects. A certified holistic nurse teaches Reiki, reflexology,
guided imagery and breathing meditation.
Regardless of a person’s faith, tradition or culture, illness can
raise a lot of spiritual questions. Our chaplains are trained as supportive
listeners and can help patients explore their spiritual needs.
Group sessions bring together those who are dealing with cancer so they
can share experiences and coping techniques and decrease the sense of
This program is offered in collaboration with the Just for You Center (wig,
mastectomy and accessory salon), which offers specialized products to
improve the quality of life for patients and their families.
McCabe and her social work team provide individual and family counseling
either in their private offices or in the treatment areas. The art therapist
and holistic nurse have studios in the Cancer Center. “Patients
are free to access some, all, or none of these services. Some people prefer
art, some do Reiki and guided imagery; different modalities help different
people,” she says.
Dr. Grann says perhaps as many as two-thirds of her patients use at least
one of the psychosocial support services. “They really help in the
journey and in healing, and some continue even after treatment,”
she says. “Doctors tend to focus on the disease itself, but there
are many components to being a patient, and every patient has his or her
own way of healing and processing. I think these services are one of the
strongest parts of our cancer program.”
To find out more about psychosocial services available through the cancer
at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, please call 973.322.2668 or visit our
Cancer Programs's Website.