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In Brain Cancer Care, Patients Rely on Connections to Family, Spirituality

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

There’s a common belief that cancer care is either an all-out effort to treat the disease or comfort care that begins near the end of life.

“Even from the beginning, we don’t see it as a choice between making our patients as comfortable or targeting their tumor,” says Sherif Makar, MD, a brain cancer specialist at Florida Hospital.

Treating the whole person calls upon us to nurture their mind, body and spirit through every phase of treatment. A patient’s quality of life — their happiness, comfort, and ability to lead the life they want — is not an afterthought to medical treatment.

Our deep experience in brain cancer allows us to anticipate the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of patients. 

The Florida Hospital Cancer Institute’s Brain and Spine Cancer Program has also adopted the latest practices and technology, such as the gamma knife, an innovative form of targeted radiation.

“Brain cancer is a rare disease, but it’s not a rare disease to us,” Dr. Makar says. “Our program, which includes one of only two neuro-oncologists in Florida, offers a wide range of supportive treatments in addition to the latest in cancer care.”

These options include a unique use of music and art to help the body adapt, cope, and heal along with more traditional support provided by social workers, chaplains, dietitians, counselors, and others.

The patient experience is often determined not only by the services offered, but how these specialists work together toward shared goals.

On the Same Page

“Patients say one aspect of treatment they value from Florida Hospital is that every facet of their care is woven together,” Dr. Makar says. “They appreciate knowing it’s a collaboration.”

That’s especially critical with brain tumors, which can press on the surrounding parts of the brain and lead to seizures, headaches, and other potential problems.

Medical care for a complicated illness such as brain cancer includes coordination of both the clinical treatments — typically coordinated at a multi-disciplinary tumor board meeting — and supportive care.

“There are a lot of moving parts in the care of brain cancer so there’s a high degree of coordination,” Dr. Makar says.

Brain Cancer Is All We Do

We can combine state-of-the-art medical treatment with complementary quality-of-life services because we know this disease well. Unlike a regular cancer center that treats many forms of cancer, Florida Hospital’s Brain and Spine Cancer Program has a laser-focus on brain cancers.

“We’re a group of physicians who dedicate ourselves to neuro-oncology,” Dr. Makar says. “That’s important because this is a rare disease, and you want a team with expertise.”

This isn’t to suggest that other doctors can’t provide a competent level of care for brain cancer. The difference, though, is that focusing on brain cancer can bring the next level of technology and interwoven supportive services.

As with many cancers, brain cancer treatment generally relies on three major tools: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. The details vary in each case, but surgery is often the first step, followed by chemotherapy and radiation about a month later.

Brain surgery can be intimidating “but most patients do well,” Dr. Makar says. Whether or not doctors will attempt to remove all of the cancer or just most of it will depend on the particulars of each case.

Spirituality Can Play Key Role

Unfortunately, many brain cancer patients are facing a dire prognosis. In the single most common form of the illness, glioblastoma, fewer than five percent of patients survive for five years.

Facing these odds, many patients turn to their spiritual connection. Florida Hospital’s CREATION Health philosophy teaches us nurturing these spiritual bonds can contribute to healing.

Our chaplains and social workers can help patients tap into their spirituality, especially during the difficult times following cancer progression.

At the same time, our medical teams coordinate with supportive services called “palliative care,” which refers to treating the symptoms of a disease and improving a patient’s quality of life.

Palliative care and hospice are not the same thing; hospice services are given near the end of life, while palliative care is appropriate at any stage of an illness.

Building Trust Through Compassion

Most often, brain cancer is diagnosed and tracked using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, which can create intricate maps of the brain without relying on damaging radiation.

Though MRI tests are painless, waiting for and reviewing their results is a stressful experience, as they show whether a tumor is shrinking or growing.

Honesty and transparency combined with compassion guide such difficult discussions. Dr. Makar says he shows patients their MRI scans, instead of just a describing them, to help patients understand their illness.

We also know the critical role played by family members, loved ones and other caregivers.

“Having that support matters; people with family support have a better quality of life,” Dr. Makar says.

Finally, our program has developed strong connections with hospice care to allow for seamless transitions when a referral is appropriate. 

At the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute, brain cancer treatment is about putting together a multidisciplinary team dedicated to treating body, mind, and spirit.

For more information, call 407-303-1700 or visit our website.