Outpatient oncology group now available

A new six-week outpatient oncology group session offering advice and education to support cancer treatment is now available at St John of God Berwick Hospital and St John of God Frankston Rehabilitation Hospital.  

29 Oct 2020


Cancer affects patients physically, mentally and emotionally. In addition to the impacts of the disease itself, the treatments designed to eradicate cancer also come with their own setbacks to a patient’s health and wellbeing.

St John of God Health Care recognises the importance of providing holistic care and runs a six-week outpatient oncology group that offers advice and education on the benefits of exercise, education on nutrition, living with a chronic disease, symptom management, learning to pace yourself, managing stress and fatigue, along with twice-weekly exercise sessions involving the gym or hydrotherapy. A weekly Tai Chi and mindfulness class is also part of the program.

Offered at both St John of God Health Care’s Berwick and Frankston campuses, the oncology group can be accessed through GP referral and subsidised through private health care depending on coverage. It is also available to self-funded participants and does not require anyone to be a patient at any of its hospitals in order to access this beneficial service.

Created for people experiencing side effects such as fatigue, anxiety, pain or general deconditioning as a result of cancer treatment, the outpatient program aims to arm participants with the tools to continue to use the coping strategies taught in the sessions in their everyday lives at home.

Kaitlyn Christie, a specialist oncology nurse at St John of God Frankston Rehabilitation Hospital, is part of the team who facilitates the program.

“The group program aims to promote physical and emotional wellbeing and provides support for patients at various stages in their cancer journey. In doing so, I am able to assess patients each session and liaise with their oncologists/care teams to discuss any concerns we may have,” she explains. “It ensures that we can provide prompt and effective care and management in order to achieve the best outcomes for our patients.”

Each session comprises of an hour of physical activity where, exercise physiologist, Grace Williams prepares a personalised program based on each individual’s own specific goals and needs.
“Not only does structured exercise help to improve participant’s physical strength to undertake everyday activities, it also reduces the number and severity of cancer treatment-related side effects, such as fatigue, nausea and pain,” confirms Grace.

In addition to addressing the physical impacts on a patient’s health, the outpatient oncology team at St John of God Health Care, also includes dieticians, and occupational therapists who cater to the emotional wellbeing of the program’s members by facilitating a weekly session of mindfulness and Tai Chi. In these sessions, participants learn to better manage stress, adopt self-care strategies such as ‘pacing’, while gaining the confidence to make positive changes in their lives throughout their cancer journey.

“Our aim is to not only educate our patients so they can be empowered to better manage their symptoms and lead a healthy lifestyle, but to be advocates for them as well,” says Kaitlyn. “Ultimately, however, we hope that by attending this six week program our participants will have gained the confidence and knowledge they need to be able to better advocate for themselves.”

When COVID hit earlier this year, the outpatient program was diverted to an online forum and the team was required to adapt to the new format, as they believed it was important to continue to provide a support service during a very socially isolating time. “This whole experience has been a rewarding one for myself and Grace,” admits Kaitlyn. “Fortunately some of the patients had already met each other when the restrictions were imposed and by continuing the twice-weekly catch ups online they were able to continue to develop bonds with each other.”

At times, Grace and Kaitlyn were able to step back and allow the group to share their own experiences with one another and even offer each other advice. “They’ve shared a lot of laughs and been there to support each other through some difficult times.” Although the program exists in a group setting there is still plenty of opportunity to ensure all patients’ needs are met even for those who prefer not to voice their concerns in front of everyone. “When we are conducting the program in-person, patients can access clinicians in a more private setting when need be,” shares Kaitlyn. “When we moved to the online process we were able to follow up with patients if they missed a session or if we felt that they required more individual attention.”

Grace and Kaitlyn are unsure of how the easing of restrictions will affect the current format but both express their gratitude at being able to continue to help their patients despite the challenges COVID presented. “It really has been a fantastic team effort,” boasts Kaitlyn. “Our wonderful allied health team continued to give education and mindfulness sessions as best they could with limited staffing and we are looking forward to being able to continue to offer that service with a new group of Telehealth patients soon.”

If you would like more information on the program please contact:
Kaitlyn Christie
Tel: (03) 9788 3275