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Patti Halula is one of our Moffitt patients who is living with metastatic breast cancer. She is joined by retired Moffitt licensed clinical social worker Chris Healy. Patti and Chris talk about how the support of social work, and Chris’ ability to see Patti’s needs beyond the cancer treatment itself, allowed Patti to live a full life WITH cancer---making all the difference in the life she leads today versus the life she thought she would have.

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Podcast Transcript

LOREEN: Welcome to Pep Talks, a patient experience podcast where we share stories of promise, our culture of connection and care, one of the essential tenants of the market promise is respect. That commitment we make to care for the whole person.

In this episode of Pep Talks, you'll hear from Patti Halula, who is living and thriving with metastatic breast cancer. And Chris Healy, one of our licensed clinical social workers, Patty and Chris, talk about how the support of social work and Chris's ability to see Patti's needs beyond the cancer treatment itself allowed Patti to live a full life with cancer, making all the difference in the life she leads today versus the life she thought she would have.

PATTI: So I'm Patty Halula, I'm a metastatic breast cancer patient, and I've been a patient here at Moffitt since 2002.

CHRIS: And I'm Chris Healy. I'm a licensed clinical social worker here at Moffitt, and I've been here for 22 years.

PATTI: I called up Moffitt because I heard such great things about it, and I asked to speak to somebody about talking to other breast cancer women, especially metastatic. And it was all my good fortunate that Chris Healy was on the other end of the phone, so I shared with her my story, which was I was diagnosed in 1994. I had great remission twice and in 2002 I relapsed. It was local, but I was shaken to the core that it was back after having such great remission. And for me, I knew it was going to make the difference on how I walk through my journey to be able to have access to somebody who walked the road that I was about to walk.

So I went, and those ladies, all in the middle of their own journeys, allowed me to come and sit and dump all of my fears and concerns about deep, dark subjects like dying.  And how do I do this a second time? Not everybody is a person that wants to come to group and talk about their feelings. Some people, they just want to deal with it privately and do their journey. But I needed to share. I'm a big proponent of giving somebody a safe place that they can come and share whatever they need to share to make their day more manageable and a little bit lighter than the day before.

CHRIS: Stage four Metastatic breast cancer, as you will probably know is, is so unique in that you can live a very long life, but a lot of the time you have no idea when this line of treatment is going to end.

So, I mean, for them all to be able to get together and support each other and, you know, is really an amazing thing

PATTI: That is group that is women coming together and sharing. That is the hope that you can't get from anybody else.

I feel social work have a big role to play in the role of a patient, a social worker brings to the table that layer that's missing, in my opinion, which is my favorite phrase that Chris gave me. Saved me.

I was a mess in 2010 when it was back again, and I really didn't know how I was going to come back from head, lungs, liver, soft tissue, bones. I thought, I'm done. This is the beginning of the end, and I was upstairs, in infusion. And then she came up and she could see that I was just hanging on. I think and I say this phrase to so many of my friends because it's what saved me, she said.

I know the water is a little murky right now and you can't see the shore. But if you just take it a breath at a time, one moment at a time, the shore is going to show itself, you can't go to what you can't see. And I could not get that from anybody else but social worker. I could not get that layer of let's dial it all back and just look at it and take it one minute, one moment at a time.

And that made the difference for me. That made the difference for me to say, You know what? You're right. I don't know what tomorrow, next week is going to bring, so I should get my head out of that game and I should put it in today and just deal with what's coming at me today. And if I didn't have that conversation with her, I often wonder what my outcome would have been.

CHRIS: You've gone through lots of big changes in your life. You got engaged. You got married. Big old Irish wedding. You adopted a baby. Yup. And each one of those points were challenging for you in terms of what right did you have to do those things?

PATTI: Yes, but I had you two sort that all out with. I was told I was metastatic one week and I got engaged the next week and I was like, so overwhelmed with the yin and yang of emotion. And so I just didn't know if I did the right thing by saying yes, and I was weighed down emotionally by Am I being selfish for wanting to live life when I don't even know how long my life is going to be?

The biggest crux I think I had right was. Do I sit on the sidelines and cheer everybody else on as they reach their milestones and their goals in their life? Or do I get in it and live it? I said, I want to be a mom. That is explosive to everybody because I got to work it out with my social worker.

My argument became living is for the living, and nobody knows how long they're going to live. And so I did. And now my daughter is 16 and married 18 years. And just think if I didn't do that, I would have had 18 years of wondering. I would have, should have coulda. But because my social worker sat with me and hashed it out and asked me the right questions to draw the right thing out of me.

Where would I be?

CHRIS: I think for patients and caregivers to know that they can access a social worker by a phone call, you can have a five-minute discussion, you can talk about resources or you can talk about end of life issues. You know, there's there's a huge range, and I just think it's really helpful for staff to know that if they even just mention, you know, there's nothing more helpful than the medical team that you trust saying to you, Oh, and by the way, we also have this service, so we have this person you can connect because it also validates every emotion this patient is having.

You know, it's sort of letting you know, patients and caregivers know that our staff understands what the whole gamut is in terms of living with cancer and addressing those needs if we're going to treat the whole patient. Let's treat the whole patient.

I think people come to Moffitt because of their excellence in treatment of cancer and people, patients and caregivers look up to their medical team. They are the most important people in the world and you all make them feel special and taken care of and it's a beautiful thing.

And I think that there is nothing more valuable than for you all to be able to say to a patient or caregiver, you know, how are you doing with all this? You know, we're treating your physical body, but how is your emotional state now and can we help you with that?

We have people that can help you planting that seed, that it's normal not to come in and feel like you're the poster child for cancer.

You don't have to always keep up that charade and for the trusted medical team. And, you know, particularly for nurses who are so involved with their patients and doing such an amazing job to be able for you to give them permission to not be handling this perfectly or to be able to access some of the other resources that might help them.

I think it benefits all of us, but I think it mostly benefits the patient in terms of really understanding that their needs are recognized

PATTI: as a whole, as a whole, as a whole person, not just the disease, but as a whole person, because that's the goal.

LOREEN: As we finished up, we asked Patty and Chris if they had anything to say to each other.

PATTI: Well, I'm going to take it first.

CHRIS: Oh, go ahead.

PATTI: You made the difference.

You made the difference in the life I lead today versus the life I thought I was going to live, that I was that I was dealt. I didn't think that you could live with the cancer. You taught me how to make it make sense to make room for it in my life. And when I say that, I say, I mean, you made me look at it and almost become peaceful with it, like, this is a part of my life. This is not my life. Does that make sense?

You made that difference? In the quality of the life.  Boom.

CHRIS: You know, in so many ways, you know, you give me a lot of credit for your growth, which I really don't feel I can accept. You've been the teacher for me.

The conversations that we have had have been so amazing that I didn't even know I was capable of having the conversations, you've helped me grow professionally, personally. And be able to provide that safe space for so many other patients because of what you taught me being a patient, and I'll always be grateful for that.

PATTI: And that is how I met Chris Healy and became a Moffitt cheerleader for the role that a social worker can play in a patient's diagnosis from beginning to end.

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