In 1998, just as our amazing life together working in Hollywood was unfolding, my husband, Gary, was diagnosed with Hodgkin disease. Resources such as StupidCancer and Young Survival Coalition, dedicated to supporting young adults on their unique journey, were not readily available. Instead, it was like waking up to find ourselves living an isolated experience few could understand. Three years later, cancer killed him.
Following Gary's death, I struggled, caught in a deep abyss of pain and loss trying to navigate life as a young widow, rudderless, and without purpose. As "done" with life as I was, it had bigger plans for me: a series of not-so-coincidental events and a desire to turn my heart-wrenching, soul-searching experience into a mission to help others who paved my path. I left a successful career in Hollywood to become a certified professional coach.
What is the role of a professional coach in oncology?
Survivors commonly come to me with low energy levels, fears about the future, a lack of hope, and feelings of isolation. They typically have difficulty relating to the "new" normal, including the changes in values and priorities. Coaching helps survivors develop insights and new awarenesses needed to live a different life. In the work I do, there is a high degree of focus on addressing stress, which often contributes to fatigue and feeling overwhelmed, as well as impacting the immune system.
According to one 2013 study, patients who worked with trained health coaches via telephone, email, and the Internet had lower costs and fewer hospital admissions.
The benefits of coaching in healthcare are not just for patients, but also for oncology professionals across acute, ambulatory, and outpatient healthcare settings. Coaching helps provide better self-awareness, personal well-being, and the ability to empower patients to take charge of their health. Also, taking a "coach-centric" approach helps the practitioner to collaborate better with team members and optimize patient satisfaction, safety, and quality.
Engagement has become a significant part of the success formula in the healthcare setting. However, in order to optimize patient engagement, the healthcare support system of physicians, nurses, and other professionals need to be engaged. And, as much as they strive to be, often they are not as a result of the stress and burdens they are feeling in today's climate.
According to a 2013 Nursing Times survey involving 2,200 nurses, 73% of nurses reported work-related stress side effects, such as physical or mental health problems.
So what does disengagement really look like? A 2014 survey from the Vickie Milazzo Institute revealed that among 3,300 nurses, 75% reported feeling like they don't have the authority they want in the workplace. Another 89% reported having apathetic bosses and coworkers, and an absence of teamwork.
Disengagement causes a stressful and unhappy work environment, which trickles down to the patients. But when employees are engaged, they offer inspiration not only to their patients, but to their colleagues as well.
Coaching for oncology professionals and educating them to use a coach-centric approach can help decrease their stress and increase job satisfaction, personal well-being, productivity, focus, and patient quality of care. Coaching skills and having greater engagement also elevate the quality and level of communication skills and leadership.
While coaching in healthcare -- and particularly in its application in oncology for both oncology professionals and survivors -- is relatively new, it is invaluable. My choice to leave behind a successful career and pursue my passion to bring coaching into healthcare and to cancer survivors was a leap. Having seen the difference it is making, it's a leap that was worth taking.
For more information on coaching in healthcare, check out "The Role of Coaching in Transforming Healthcare
What has been your experience working with professional health coaches in oncology?