Navigate Rough Waters


Emotional Recovery

The progression from diagnosis to treatment and through recovery is an emotional passage. Pam Kiser, chief nursing officer and vice president of nursing at St. John Medical Center, encourages individuals to allow themselves to grieve – and she speaks from experience.

Kiser faced her own health crisis when she was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma – a typically slow-growing and noncancerous tumor that develops on the eighth cranial nerve leading from the brain to the inner ear. Her treatment plan consisted of traveling to California, undergoing brain surgery and taking on an extensive rehabilitation process that included learning how to walk again.

She says that while she wanted to have a positive attitude, in the beginning she couldn’t.

“You have to let yourself go ahead and cry, grieve and be scared for a while, but know you will get past it,” says Kiser. “The next step is to get busy. Begin researching your options and develop a plan.”

Kiser kept a detailed notebook and recorded every conversation she had with a doctor. She also recorded side notes about how she was feeling that day or how the person she was talking to made her feel. She believes it’s all a part of the process of finding the best care.

“I knew from my medical background that if you do something every single day, the better you become,” says Kiser. “I did my research and asked each doctor how many surgeries like mine they had performed. I ultimately chose a physician that not only had performed the procedure many times, but whose kindness and compassion over the phone gave me the confidence I needed to move forward. He also provided me with a succinct plan so there was nothing left to question; I knew what to expect.”

Today, many health organizations offer programs to help support patients who have received a life-altering diagnosis.

St. John Health System recently became the first health system in Oklahoma to earn STAR Program certification for cancer survivorship care. The program teams together physicians, physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists and nurses to work with patients on personalized rehabilitation plans to increase strength and energy, alleviate pain and improve daily function and quality of life. The program also includes nutrition counseling, customized exercise programs, counseling and coordinated social services.

“Our certified team works together to address many of the functional limitations that might occur from cancer treatment,” says David Pynn, St. John Health System president and chief executive officer. “Often, these limitations are initially overlooked or perceived by survivors as their ‘new normal.’ Through the STAR Program, we can address many of these limitations with a multidisciplinary, evidence-based and patient-centered approach.”

Stephenson Cancer Center, located on the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center campus in Oklahoma City, offers its patients a “navigator” – a designated person who serves as a one-stop resource and assists patients through their cancer treatment plan.

“Cancer is a complex disease that affects the individual patient and their family in many ways,” says Dr. Robert Mannel, director of Stephenson Cancer Center. “Our patient and nurse navigators are part of our cancer treatment and supportive care team that works not only to treat the cancer but also to address the myriad issues surrounding cancer care. The navigators function as a personal care coordinator for the patient, helping the patient to successfully access the numerous treatment and supportive care options available at the Stephenson Cancer Center.”

When she needed it most, Kiser received encouragement from a support group, but she also emphasizes the importance of reaching out to family and friends. In an effort to help boost her spirits, a friend of Kiser’s visited her every day and dedicated 20 minutes to making her laugh.

“Everyone needs a best buddy,” she says. “Don’t feel bad about calling that person at the last minute and asking for their help. Having an extra set of ears to listen during an appointment is a great benefit. While I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, it changes how you view each day, but in a really good way. It makes it so much easier to be grateful, and that is a great way to live, with gratitude.”