Preparedness workshops that provide support and education about surgery decrease distress in breast cancer patients in the period between diagnosis and surgery and lead to earlier referrals to lymphedema specialists, according to research presented by Susan O’Conner, MSN, RN, OCN®, director of the Breast Center, Anne Arundel Medical Center, DeCesaris Cancer Institute, Annapolis, Maryland, at the Oncology Nursing Society 36th Annual Congress.

Many breast cancer patients experience extreme stress and anxiety in the time between receiving a cancer diagnosis and awaiting a definitive surgery. To alleviate some of this concern, the Breast Center at Anne Arundel Medical Center implemented a “Gear Up” preparedness workshop for breast cancer patients awaiting surgery to teach women methods to help reduce anxiety and lower stress levels. The session also focused on educating patients about how to prevent lymphedema and provided them with preoperative arm measurements.

The workshop, held every 2 weeks by a licensed counselor, opened with patients talking briefly about their diagnosis and how they had been coping with it. Patients then participated in a breathing exercise followed by a guided imagery exercise. The concepts of keeping well, in mind and body, through a combination of exercise, stress reduction, and nutrition were also discussed.

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Lymphedema therapists then moved on to discuss lymphedema, explaining its causes and how to prevent the condition from occurring. During this time, presurgical lymphedema measurements were taken and documented, and a copy of the results was given to each patient.

According to O’Connor, 62 of the Breast Center’s newly diagnosed patients and their caregivers have attended the workshops since they were instituted in August 2010. In addition, the discussion of preventative measures has led to earlier patient visits to see lymphedema specialists as well as more effective interventions. Using the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Distress Thermometer, psychosocial assessments at postoperative appointments revealed a decrease in distress in patients who attended a preparedness workshop. Results indicate that the patients benefit both physically and emotionally from attending a preparedness workshop, thereby enhancing overall wellness.