West Richland man with cancer supported by palliative care program

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 25, 2014 

Palliative care

Ray Webb and his wife Gay don't waste much time feeling sorry for themselves despite both having fought cancer, their Christian faith does most of the work on that front. Being in the Tri-Cities Cancer Center's palliative care program helps with the rest. The program is for people with cancer, providing an extra layer of support with a nurse navigator, chaplain and financial counselor.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Cancer has touched Ray Webb's family more than most.

His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer last spring. His son died six years ago after a battle with colon cancer.

And Webb himself is fighting the disease. He has prostate cancer that's spread to his bones.

As the 77-year-old West Richland man deals with the cancer, he has an extra layer of support to help him.

He's part of the Tri-Cities Cancer Center's palliative care program. Webb said it's provided "peace of mind."

The program has been around for about two years, part of a growing number of palliative programs in the Mid-Columbia and around the country.

They can be misunderstood. "The word (palliative) -- it's so hard for people. They don't understand what it is. How I like to think about it is: quality of life," said Chaplain Rainy Larson, part of the cancer center's palliative care team.

Karen DuBois, the program's nurse navigator, said the care "isn't about dying, it's about living."

"People confuse palliative care with comfort care, they confuse it with end-of-life care. But it's not that. Palliative care is just an extra level of service" that can be provided along with life-prolonging treatments, DuBois said. The goal is to improve quality of life and ease symptoms, pain and stress, she said.

Different palliative care programs use different service models. DuBois acts as an advocate and touchstone for patients in her program -- keeping in contact with their medical providers, fielding questions and providing resources and education.

Larson, the board-certified chaplain, tends to patients' spiritual and emotional needs.

A financial counselor also is part of the team.

"We're here to support people's families as well. It's not just the patient," DuBois said. "Their care providers and families are stressed to the max. They're there with them on the journey and they need support too."

The cancer center's program is for people with oncology diagnoses.

There's no charge, with patients coming from the cancer center in Kennewick and other medical providers in the Tri-City area.

DuBois has worked with about 150 patients total since the palliative care program started and has about 40 to 50 patients at any one time.

The cancer center's campus partner, Columbia Basin Hematology & Oncology, has its own palliative care program, led by Lynne Allen, a nurse practitioner. The Chaplaincy, Kadlec Health System and Lourdes Health Network also have palliative care offerings, and Trios Health expects to eventually formalize a program.

The cancer center and those other groups take part in a committee of palliative care professionals that's been meeting since 2012. A current priority, DuBois said, is to educate the public and medical community about palliative care.

Experts say there are many benefits, with evidence showing patients live longer and with less pain and similar issues. Studies also have shown palliative care leads to efficiencies that save money, according to the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network. One 2011 study found $6,900 in savings during a given admission for palliative patients enrolled in Medicaid at four hospitals in New York, according to information from the group.

Webb has been part of the palliative care program at the cancer center in Kennewick for about two years.

He said DuBois is a gentle presence who's helped with matters big and small. "She's got a comfort level. You just sit down and visit," he told the Herald.

Webb is retired from the world of heavy construction. He and his wife, Gay, moved to the Tri-Cities in 2006, where their son, Roger, and his wife and daughters lived. The next year, Roger was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. He died in May 2008.

Ray Webb said he was glad to be there for his son's final months.

Roger drew comfort from his Christian faith; Ray and Gay share that faith and draw strength from it, too.

"You know, the only thing we're in charge of is our attitude. Our foundation is strong," said Gay, who's doing well now after a mastectomy.

The Webbs said it's been helpful to have a touchstone like DuBois they can go to with questions.

"If you've got a question, call her," Ray said.

"None of our questions are dumb to her," Gay added. "It's comfortable."

For more information about the Tri-Cities Cancer Center's palliative program, call DuBois at 737-3412.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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