Patients are used to having their pulse, blood pressure, respiration, temperature and pain level recorded in their medical record. Now a “sixth vital sign,” that of emotional distress, is beginning to find its way into patient charts. It’s called distress screening.
Patients who have difficulty coping with cancer may be referred for psychosocial care.
“This originates from the medical philosophy of focusing on the whole person. In addition to their physical health and well-being, we want to also focus on their psychological and emotional health,” says rehabilitation psychologist Jeffrey Schweitzer, PhD.
He says it’s not uncommon for people who have symptoms suggestive of a cancer diagnosis to report high levels of stress, anxiety and fear. Often, people who receive a cancer diagnosis grapple with “mortality salience,” a sudden awareness of their mortality. A person may ponder what death will mean to himself or herself, its impact on loved ones, and spiritual implications. Schweitzer says, “Understandably, this brings about significant stress.”
Schweitzer and his colleague Angelina Rodner, PhD, provide individual psychosocial care to patients of the Upstate Cancer Center. They also oversee a new Body Mind Wellness Group for anyone with cancer from throughout the Central New York community. The group will meet regularly, covering nutrition, sleep, stress physiology and other issues important to people facing cancer.
Learn more about the Body Mind Wellness Group by calling Schweitzer at 315-464-2378. Hear a podcast/radio interview with Schweitzer and doctoral candidate Brian Arizmendi about the group and its purpose. This article appears in the spring 2017 issue of Cancer Care magazine.