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Connecting Potential Stem Cell Transplant Recipients with Survivors Aids in Procedure Preparation

By Debi Fischer, MSW, BSN, BA, LCSW, RN
PUBLISHED WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 31, 1969
Stem cell transplant survivors have a second chance at life–I have seen that firsthand as an RN in surgical oncology. But these patients have many obstacles they face as they experience this cutting-edge treatment, ranging from having emotional distress to financial problems.

I recently attended a lecture given by two social workers, Elise James, LCSW, and Mayra Garcia, LCSW, who discussed patients’ pre-transplant experiences and also about a helpful group they run at their facility that orients and supports these patients. Their presentation at the 35th Annual Florida Society of Social Workers (FSOSW) conference in Miami, Florida–called “Stem Cell Transplant Meet and Greet:  A Journey Through Transplant”–described one way social workers take the patient though the journey of approaching a stem cell transplant.1

The Only One of Its Kind

At the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, James and Garcia hold monthly psychoeducational events called Stem Cell Meet and Greets at their facility, which is part of the University of Miami Health System, for interested patients.

The Stem Cell Meet and Greet support group program is the only one of its kind in the country, according to the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s website.2 During the sessions, potential patients can explore any questions they may have about stem cell transplants, which are very complex medical procedures. If they have any lingering questions regarding transplants or doubts, they can talk to survivors. They also have a chance to meet staff members who work in the unit and ask them about the transplant and what to expect. The group meeting not only gives patients information about the transplant procedure, but hope as well. Meeting others who have survived and thrived after the transplant can enable them to feel more secure in approaching the procedure.

New Terminology

James and Garcia defined 2 important terms related to stem cell transplant: allogen and engrafment. This lecture was an eye opener for me because, despite working in surgical oncology as an RN and being an LCSW, I was not conversant with these 2 terms.

Allogen refers to stem cells derived from a matching donor that are used for a transplant.  The opposite term, autologous, refers to using stem cells from the patient’s own system. Engrafment is the process that occurs after the stem cell transplant is completed. That is when the patient starts to create new blood cells and their immune system starts functioning again. 

Inspiring Others

Oncology nurses at institutions that conduct stem cell transplants may want to consider suggesting a support group of this kind for their institutions. Connecting surviving patients with those facing the prospect of the procedure can have a positive impact on the prospective patient’s psychosocial well-being.
 
References
  1. James E, Garcia M. “Stem Cell Transplant Meet and Greet:  A Journey Through Transplant.” Presented at: 35th Annual Florida Society of Social Workers (FSOSW) Conference, Miami, Fl, Oct 10-12, 2018.
  2. Support groups.  Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center website.  umiamihealth.org/sylvester-comprehensive-cancer-center/cancer-support-services/support-groups.  Accessed November 6, 2018. 
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