Complete Care: UPMC's Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program

Photography By Michael Fornataro | February 28, 2017
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By Sierra Smith

Since starting practice about a decade ago, Dr. Lanie Francis of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, has been making strides with integrative oncological care. After several of her patients had questions about holistic care, she began to form a program to provide more unified care, now called the Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program. Through the use of therapies involving movement, touch, nutrition, and mindfulness, Dr. Francis’ patients can manage their symptoms, emotions, and overall wellness while participating in conventional cancer care.

“We never use the term alternative,” says Dr. Francis, as this often connotes the use of non-mainstream methods in place of conventional treatments. Rather, integrative oncological care weaves the non-mainstream into conventional care to create a more cohesive approach. Integrative care programs have been cropping up all over the country, but what sets Dr. Francis’ program apart is, well, Dr. Francis. As a hematologist, medical oncologist, and program director for the Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program, she oversees the creation, execution, and supervision of each customized care plan. Plus, she says, “I can easily work with other doctors involved in the patient’s care to ensure safety and effective communication.”

Complementing Dr. Francis’ expertise, the Cancer Center established a Nurse Ambassador Program in 2016 to merge education with clinical and integrative care at the bedside. Now, oncology nurses can help patients with treatments like aromatherapy, guided meditation, hand and foot massages, and seated stretching. Not only do these trained nurses provide reliable care, but because they work so closely with the patients, they’re trusted and able to better personalize treatments. Currently, there are four trained oncology nurses in the Hillman Cancer Center and the Shadyside Radiation Oncology Center, and more are in training.

To provide a truly customized care plan, a patient’s first visit typically involves an in-depth discussion about various aspects of their daily life: cancer diagnosis, symptoms, chronic medical problems, medicines and supplements, diet and exercise, spiritual beliefs, support systems, and more. Once this information is established, a “symptom-driven and evidence-based” plan is created and executed.

Beyond the bedside, Dr. Francis has also established several successful large-scale events focused on wellness. The events — the Integrative Oncology Wellness Fair, the Educational Symposium, and the Breathing Room Fundraiser — provide patients, caregivers, and staff important opportunities to connect with providers and to learn about and keep up with the most current therapies.

According to Dr. Francis, the most popular integrative services are oncology massage, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, lifestyle nutrition, and aromatherapy, but the available therapies don’t stop there. Through the integration of movement, touch, nutrition, and mindfulness therapies, evidence suggests that patients can experience a decrease in negative symptoms like nausea, fatigue, anxiety, pain, neuropathy, and depression. And, many of the available services, such as aromatherapy and lifestyle nutrition, can have a positive effect on one’s overall wellness and mindset.

Through this uniquely comprehensive program, UPMC, the Cancer Center, and Dr. Francis can continue to provide top-notch traditional care, while offering patients ways to manage aspects of their wellness through non-mainstream methods, ensuring that they’ll find peace of body and mind.

The Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program,

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