The compassionate caregiver: researcher explores cancer survivorship
This story is part of The Next 25, an ongoing series exploring how Queen's Health Sciences is reimagining health sciences education, research, and patient care. It originally appeared on the Queen's Health Sciences website.
Early in her career as a clinical trials nurse at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Dr. Jacqueline Galica regularly heard the fears and concerns of cancer patients even after their treatments concluded.
“The fear of cancer recurrence is a common one,” says Dr. Galica, today an Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing at Queen’s University and a member of the Queen's Cancer Research Institute (QCRI). “The cancer may be gone, but people continue to live with persistent changes and challenges.”
Her experience at Princess Margaret (now Princess Margaret Cancer Centre), and her interest in the challenges facing cancer survivors, led her to a future as a nurse scientist focused on cancer survivorship care.
“The culture at Princess Margaret was one of research expectation,” Dr. Galica recalls. “It helped me understand more clearly the impact nurses can have in planning and implementing research to improve the care that patients receive.”
Dr. Galica’s research prioritizes patient-partnerships in the realm of psychosocial oncology, which focuses on the emotional, social, and practical aspects of living with cancer. Psychosocial concerns are not often addressed in mainstream cancer care, she says, where the predominant focus is on treatment. As such, her work involves partnering with cancer survivors to research how to help them find a path forward. The process can be challenging for everyone involved. Many survivors find themselves reliving experiences and emotions from years earlier when they were at their most vulnerable. Some might have dealt with their fears; others have put them aside. “Some of those conversations are really hard and require delicacy,” she says. “To understand their experience fully can take a lot of time and involve meeting again and again to continue the conversation.”
Recently, she engaged in a study with gynecological cancer survivors and their caregivers looking into providing sensitive and practical support through the transition from primary cancer treatment. The outcome of the study, funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, is a patient-friendly resource based on the scientific literature and the experiential evidence provided by patients and caregivers.
A related study involves Dr. Galica working in partnership with a nurse practitioner at the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario to help gynecological cancer survivors manage their concerns at the end of primary treatment. Another involves work with breast and colorectal cancer survivors to ease their return to work after treatment and assist with their greatest challenges once they are back on the job.
In every project, Dr. Galica is working toward practical outcomes. “I don’t want my research to sit on a shelf,” she says. “We are working toward practical strategies for cancer survivors.” For instance, one patient partner found value in using mindfulness to support her and help her focus on returning to work. Dr. Galica found some scientific support for mindfulness, so she partnered with a mindfulness instructor to explore how this technique can be useful in the transition after cancer treatment.
Dr. Galica has also been working with teams to explore how healthcare environments influence the compassionate care provided by healthcare providers. She is working with clinicians and administrators at regional hospitals and partnering with researchers at Queen's to better understand how compassion can be promoted across their organizations. The need for “compassionate care” as described by Dr. Galica, is immense: “There is the compassion that we show ourselves, the compassion we show and receive from our colleagues. There are also compassion practices at a larger departmental or even organizational level. It can empower us and enables us to be truly present for our patients and each other.”
Dr. Galica praises the research and teaching environment at Queen’s Health Sciences, saying she has enjoyed the best of both worlds since arriving in 2018. She calls her time at Queen’s a “golden opportunity” to work with colleagues in the Nursing School and the Department of Cancer Care and Epidemiology in QCRI.
One of her goals as an educator is to inspire the next generation of nurses to explore how they contribute to and use research as part of their own careers. When she first stands in front of students in her undergraduate Nursing Research course each January, she begins by sharing some of the thoughts she had when she was in their place.
“I remember thinking I would never use this (course) because I’m not going to be a researcher,” she recalls. “What I want them to walk away with is the knowledge that we might not all be researchers, but we are all users of research. I want them to appreciate the role of research and to be ready to work with researchers as interdisciplinary partners in the clinical care of our patients.”
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