November 22, 2017
3 min read

Your Cancer Game Plan helps patients proactively address communication, emotional needs

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Your Cancer Game Plan is designed to help individuals with cancer and their families address their communication, emotional and nutritional needs.

The awareness campaign is a collaboration between Merck and CancerCare, a national organization that provides free professional support services to patients.

Members of the care team can help patients considerably by keeping the three key components of Your Cancer Game Plan at the forefront of care, according to Winfield Boerckel, MSW, MBA, LCSW-R, director of social service in CancerCare’s office in Long Island, New York.

Winfield Boerckel

“Physicians need to encourage patients to create a plan that focuses on their emotional wellness and communication, and they should refer them to other resources that can help them,” Boerckel told HemOnc Today. “There are a lot of early messages we’re asking practitioners to pay attention to, but the idea of having a plan to be proactive rather than reactive can really help patients cope with cancer much better.”


Accurate information is an essential component of emotional wellness for people with cancer and their caregivers, Boerckel told HemOnc Today.

“Patients often are reluctant to ask questions of their doctor,” he said. “Instead, they sometimes create their own scenarios and come up with their own answers, which are usually wrong and create a lot of anxiety.”

Providers can promote effective communication by occasionally asking patients if they understand what they are being told.

“It’s very important that physicians and others on the care team seek that feedback and encourage patients and their caregivers to speak up when something isn’t making sense,” Boerckel said.

Clinicians also should encourage patients to ask questions, Boerckel said.

Patients often look at their doctor as the person who holds their lives in his or her hands, but Boerckel tries to frame it in terms of a customer-vendor relationship.

“If you were taking your car to the service station for repairs, what questions would you ask?” Boerckel said. “Dealing with cancer is far more important, so you need the same amount of information — often much more — than you’d want on your Chevrolet.

“Doctors can help facilitate those conversations by encouraging their patients to ask questions,” he added. “If they tell their patients, ‘I believe information is as important as medicine and I want to make sure we are equipping you with all of the information you need to go forward,’ then patients will see this as a true investment in their care.”

Emotional needs

Boerckel encourages members of the care team to assess patients’ emotional support systems.


This can be done in part by observing their interactions with friends or family members who accompany them to appointments.

“I’d also encourage physicians to ask patients, ‘What is your emotional support team like?’” Boerckel said. “They can ask patients if they have been able to find a support group or advocacy organization that might be able to help.

“A doctor’s suggestion often mobilizes people to follow up,” Boerckel added. “Patients may not be aware of support groups, or maybe they think talking with a counselor isn’t for them, but if their doctor brings it up, suddenly it becomes a golden message.”

Nutrition and exercise

Members of the care team also should encourage patients to make sure they are paying attention to nutrition and getting enough physical activity, Boerckel said.

The key is to integrate those factors into care early on.

“These two things are such an important part of cancer care,” Boerckel said. “We don’t want practitioners to wait until a patient is dealing with loss of lean muscle mass, and they are not able to walk up a short stairway without having to pause twice. We want people to know it’s important to pay attention to this from the beginning so they can maintain that lean muscle mass.” – by Mark Leiser