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We need a pit crew

I’d like to share with you a fascinating experience I recently had in attending the third annual Bridging the Divide: Mental Health and Cancer Care Working Summit and Collaborative Symposium on April 11-12, 2019.  We met together as a group of mental health and cancer professionals, patients and family members dedicated to promoting equity in the care of those who have simultaneous cancer and mental illness. Their collaborative efforts are expected to improve the cancer care experience and health outcomes of those who have mental illness.  We know that many people are not able to access care. In order to change healthcare delivery, many different specialists need to work together, and that collaboration can be difficult to achieve.

I was honored to present at the symposium and to write this blog.

On first glance, the passion and enthusiasm of the symposium leaders was impressive, visible, palpable and contagious.  I felt the energy in the room, felt grateful to Kelly Irwin, Amy Corveleyn and their team, and wanted to become more involved in the Cancer and Mental Health Collaborative.

I was excited by the unique opportunity to meet national speakers and diverse participants. In particular, I was moved by meeting fellow patients – individuals who have lived experience, whose resilience is unparalleled.

In Thursday’s summit we worked in small groups to problem solve and generate new ideas about how to promote equity in the healthcare delivery system.  I learned a lot from my peers in the brainstorming workgroups, and hopefully contributed some valuable thoughts and insight through my group’s idea, Peers for Fears.

During the Symposium, I was impressed by the creativity and perseverance of clinicians and staff who collaborated to care for people who have cancer and serious mental illness. We hope that one day integrated cancer and mental health care for people who have serious mental illness will become treatment as usual, and that the system will change to support that care delivery model.

Many speakers emphasized the importance of having a treatment TEAM that includes several different clinicians: physicians, PA’s, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health professionals, family members, peers, and others. Dr. Michael Sharpe, psychiatrist and president-elect of the Academy of Consult Liaison Psychiatry, memorably referred to the treatment TEAMas the “pit crew!”  I love that term!  The team would do anything to work together efficiently and ensure that people receive needed care despite their mental illness, fear of the healthcare system and challenging life circumstances.

The idea of a team resonates with me personally. Having a team of professionals communicating clearly and consistently with each other, coordinating my care, was essential and I was pleased to see how willing they all were.

Listening to individuals share their stories as patients and caregivers during the Symposium was particularly compelling.  These narratives, their stories of recovery, grounded the group’s ideas for improving care delivery in real life experience. The challenge of serious mental illness became believable, genuine – not just theoretical.   I appreciated their bravery in stepping forward with their stories, and felt connected and aligned. I was kindly asked to share my story before the last panel discussion of the day and found it to be a very warm and welcoming experience.

The request to present my narrative was because of my unique perspective as both a recipient and provider of healthcare services. I’ve had depression since my teenage years – UNtreated for 33 years – and breast cancer since 2011. What made a difference in my care was the tireless team of professionals – my safety net – who prevented my rattled brain from taking over and have kept me alive. Then in 2011 my combined teams offered extraordinary, coordinated support, integrating my mental and physical health.

Overall, the Bridging the Gap Symposium was a most successful event that opened up communication and generated many new ideas for improving the cancer/mental health care system.  I look forward to collaborating and putting these ideas into action, and hearing an updated report at next year’s symposium! You can learn more about this effort online @EndtheInequity or the Collaborative’s website


Stay well!


A version of this article was previously posted on Psychology Today.

This entry was posted in Finding Professional Help, Living with Depression. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
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