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Navigating Emotions

Dear Iris: Another Referral

Dear Iris,

I’m feeling down because my pain is getting in the way of doing my favorite activities: golfing and spending time with my grandkids. At my last visit my doctor recommended that palliative care could be helpful. I haven’t made the appointment because I don’t understand how they could help me. What does this mean about my cancer?


Dear C, 

I’m sorry to hear you have been unable to do some of the activities you love most. I appreciate how a referral to another medical team can be confusing and possibly feel burdensome in addition to working with your oncology team.  

To start, let’s discuss what exactly palliative care is. It’s a medical service — often a team of specialized doctors, advanced practice providers, nurses, social workers, and chaplains — who work alongside your medical team to offer new recommendations to your established cancer care plan. The goal is to improve your quality of life by focusing on everything you need when you’re facing a serious illness, including physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs. 

Based on what you have shared with me, I can certainly see the benefits of working with a palliative care team to address your pain, as they specialize in pain and symptom management strategies.  

While palliative care doctors and advanced practice providers (NPs, PAs) will be able to work with you to address your physical symptoms, I would also recommend seeing a mental health therapist on the palliative care team. Dealing with pain and the restrictions this places on your day-to-day life can be draining, and as you said, cause you to feel down. A palliative mental health therapist can support you in addressing these feelings and work with you to find activities you enjoy at your current energy level.  

Lastly, you asked what this means about your cancer. Know this: You can receive palliative care with or without cancer-specific treatment; it can begin at any point in the treatment process and is often recommended to help proactively manage major symptom and side effect concerns, including pain.  

Studies have shown that early palliative care can lead to improved quality of life and mood as well as helping people live longer. The collaborative, team-based approach can also help your loved ones feel supported.  

I hope you’ll consider a consultation with the palliative care team; I’ve seen countless patients be able to address their pain and find additional services that were helpful (that they didn’t even know were available) during their cancer treatment.  

Don’t forget: the Iris Care Team is full of knowledgeable experts in this area and is available to support you and explore how palliative care might be helpful to you. 

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Jessica Fox, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, APHSW-C

Mental Health Therapist

Iris Oncology

Jessica Fox is an oncology social worker with a decade of experience working with patients and their families. She has earned her Oncology Social Work Certification (OSW-C) and Advanced Palliative and Hospice Social Work Certification (APHSW-C). Jessica has worked for outpatient cancer centers in both Baltimore, MD and Portland, OR.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.