• DSC_0067_small
  • DSC_0099_small

Week 48: VCU Massey Cancer Center Palliative Care Unit

Dear Batter Up friends, meet some of VCU Massey Cancer Center’s palliative care staff. These folks are making a tremendous impact on the lives of cancer patients and were nominated for their efforts by Leslie Haynie Hall, whose mom lost her fight with Cancer in November 2013. She said that the nurses in the palliative care center provided her mom—and many others—a lot of comfort in their final days.

I was not familiar with palliative care before getting this nomination so it was a great learning opportunity for me. For those of you who don’t know much about it, I’ll share what I’ve learned. It’s really quite fascinating.

Palliative care is a holistic approach to patient care and is employed in the treatment of many debilitating diseases such as cancer, congestive heart failure, COPD, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many more. It also has no boundaries in regards to age and can be implemented into the treatment programs of young, old, and everyone in between. It is essentially a partnership between a team of care providers. Doctors, nurses, social work palliative care specialists, therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists, and chaplains can all be part of the team. As a unit, they work with patients and their families to not only manage symptoms of pain, stress, and depression, (among others), but also assist in the understanding of treatment options and outcomes. The goal is to address the unique psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs of each individual patient thereby improving the quality of life for both the patient and the family.

The VCU Massey Cancer Center is an international award-winning pioneer in palliative care. They are the only certified palliative care program in Virginia and much of the curricula now used by palliative care leadership centers to teach institutions how to build successful palliative care programs were developed at Massey. Like with most things at VCU Medical Center, the program is constantly on the cutting edge of growth and development and there are few boundaries between research, training, and implementation. Massey trains physicians through the Hospice and Palliative Care Fellowship program and educates administrators and clinicians across the country and abroad through three varied educational initiatives. And of course none of this would mean anything if it weren’t for their outstanding patient care. According to their website, “Massey provides patients with a continuity of palliative care across the continuum of need through three different venues:

1. An active consult service that brings expert pain and symptom management to the patient’s bedside anywhere within the VCU Medical Center

2. The Thomas Palliative Care Unit at Massey, which is an 11-bed inpatient unit with a unique, home-like atmosphere

3. A supportive care clinic for outpatient cancer visits”

It was number two—the Thomas Palliative Care Unit—where I delivered this week’s cake and, while I didn’t go into any of the rooms, I could immediately sense the “unique, home-like atmosphere” mentioned on their website. For those of you who were following along back in February when I delivered the mini heart cakes on Valentine’s day to the cardiac care units around Richmond, you’ll remember that my trip to VCU Medical Center was quite memorable. I’m pleased to say that this trip went much smoother. I’ve learned to navigate the geography of the concrete jungle in and around the hospital and the labyrinth of hallways and doors and elevators and escalators were not so daunting this time around. I made my way to the palliative care unit and, in typical fashion, grabbed the attention of the first person I saw behind the main desk. No matter how long I do this project I will always get a chuckle out of people’s reactions. I told the lady who I was and what I was doing. In return I got half-hearted smile and words of appreciation with a great sense of confusion and uncertainty about the whole situation. As she started to recruit others for the photo and word spread about what was happening, that confusion and uncertainty turned to genuine smiles and excitement. By the time everyone convened in the main hall for the picture, they were one of the cutest and most excited groups I’ve battered to date. They were so thrilled to get a cake and were super excited to dig into it.

And who wouldn’t want to dig into this cake?! This week was a Samoa cake. I’ve seen this cake, in several iterations, floating around Pinterest for a long time and I’ve been wanting to make it for a while. This particular recipe came from a blog called Wuthering Iris and the recipe can be found here. It’s a bit of a time consuming cake because it calls for a can of dulce de leche—which of course I made myself. I’ve never done it before and I read lots of different posts on the best—and worst—ways to make it. I went with the crockpot method which took about 8 hours. It was AH-MA-ZING! I seriously could have sat down on the couch in front of a good movie and eaten the entire can with a spoon. But I didn’t. The cake itself is actually two different batters—a brown sugar batter and a chocolate batter—swirled together. Then it’s topped with a buttery, coconutty, dulce de leche icing, and then it’s topped with toasted coconut and melted chocolate. It’s quite possibly one of the best—and messiest (in a good way)—cakes I’ve made to date. Considering its executional complexity and all of the different elements that come together to create this rich, gooey deliciousness, I thought it was the perfect choice for this amazing group who embraces complex problem solving in order to affect lives in such a rich, meaningful way.