By KAMIL ZAWADZKI
Kamil Zawadzki/Telegram Dosimetrist Bryan Kruleski and oncology nurse Patty Speer-Palacio stand next to a treatment simulation machine at St. Catherine Hospital's Cancer Center.
The ability to offer spiritual support to cancer-stricken patients makes St. Catherine Hospital's Cancer Center stand out.
That, according to Patty Speer-Palacio, an oncology nurse at the center, is an important factor that helps bring patients and staff dealing with cancer together.
"You can see a peace and calm come over some of them," Speer-Palacio said. "We cry with them."
Speer-Palacio has been working at St. Catherine Hospital for 37 years, 12 of which she spent being a nursing coordinator. When she found herself missing the daily care for and direct contact with patients, she took an opportunity to join the staff at the Cancer Center.
The Cancer Center, open since 1997, includes state-of-the-art technology for diagnostic scanning, pre-treatment testing and the latest in treatment devices and techniques. The staff of 16 includes oncology doctors and nurses who provide patients with spiritual, mental, nutritional and rehabilitative services or referrals for a multidisciplinary therapy for the duration of their cancer treatment.
As an oncology nurse, Speer-Palacio helps radiation oncologist Dr. Surendra Verma monitor patients' side effects from radiation treatments and determine medications to help them heal during and after the treatment. She also does the work other nurses in other parts of the hospital do, tasks ranging from referrals to other departments or services in the hospital to something as simple as holding patients' hands.
She enjoys taking care of her patients and forging relationships with them through that care.
"I like being able to sit down and visit with them, and they tell you all kinds of good stuff," Speer-Palacio said.
There is a downside to forging those relationships with patients that come in to be treated for cancer. Though some detachment is necessary, Speer-Palacio said that "you never totally detach from people you care for."
"There's times when I go home and bawl," she said, adding that cancer in patients who are extremely young bothers her.
Some of her patients, she said, also make some kind of an impression on her and are particularly special or memorable.
"You might wake up in the middle of the night, you're thinking about them," she said.
She said sometimes she just clears her mind once she gets home while watching TV.
"You just don't want to think about anything for awhile," she said. "It's hard to deal with sometimes, but I think we do a good job."
Before going to the Cancer Center, patients must get a diagnosis from their primary health provider, Speer-Palacio said.
"What you do for skin cancer is different than what you do for, say, lung cancer or pancreatic cancer," she said.
With diagnoses and CAT scans, that's where dosimetrist Bryan Kruleski comes in to figure out ways to best attack the cancer.
Kruleski is in charge of creating treatment plans for patients based on their initial diagnosis and CAT scans.
"I pick out the angles that we want to treat the patient from so we can try to avoid critical organs or structures as much as possible," Kruleski said.
Kruleski also determines how to divide the doses of radiation treatment to fit with the doctor's request and patient's need.
He uses an X-Ray simulation machine that scans a patient and mimics the effects of radiation treatment without actually administering it,
By virtue of his position as dosimetrist who typically only sees a patient for that first screening, Kruleski has less contact with cancer patients than nurses like Speer-Palacio, who may be with the patient at various stages of the treatment process.
Regardless of the extent of direct patient contact, however, Kruleski said that perception and attitude is key for people looking to get into the health care profession.
People who might get mired down in negative thoughts when seeing a cancer patient's file and can only focus on that negativity, he said, might not be a good fit for this line of work.
Kruleski said his more positive outlook helps insulate him from any emotional toll that seeing people with a life-threatening illness daily may take.
"The way I look it is, we're treating the patients to make them better, so they may be coming in sick, but we're trying to do what we can to make them better," he said.
Even if the cancer is terminal, he said, "what we're doing is trying to help them out."
Speer-Palacio also said that that positive aspect of helping people is what has kept her in the health care profession.
She said caring for people is not a struggle.
"That's not challenging, just being kind," Speer-Palacio said. "Talking to people and just being kind, that should be something everybody is able to do."
Cancer Center or South Wind Oncology Associates
Address: 410 E. Spruce St.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday
Services: Diagnosis, treatment and prevention; radiation oncology, including PET CT and linear accelerator with IMRT; medical oncology and hematology services
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