How Caring for a Loved One With Cancer Can Inform Oncology Pharmacists’ Role on the Clinical Care Team

Sarah Wheeler, PharmD, BCOP, clinical pharmacy specialist in Hematology/Oncology at UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital, discusses how experience as a caregiver can help inform the work of an oncology pharmacist on the clinical care team.

Pharmacy Times interviewed Sarah Wheeler, PharmD, BCOP, clinical pharmacy specialist in Hematology/Oncology at UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital, on her session at the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association 2022 annual conference session titled ‘And the Title We Didn’t Train for: Navigating the Balance Between Being a Caregiver AND an Oncology Pharmacist.’

During this discussion, Wheeler addresses how experience as a caregiver can help inform oncology pharmacists’ role on the clinical care team.

Sarah Wheeler: Yeah, I think anybody that has caregiver experience—for me, being an oncology pharmacist, my caregiver experience goes with being a pharmacist. But I think our medical teams really can benefit from caregivers—both those that are dual-hat wearing like me, or our nurses or physicians that are caregivers as well—that we do have a different angle that we can bring during rounds to talk about.

So things that have happened recently for us is we had a young patient, from around my age, dealing with some of the same stuff that I was dealing with in my own life. So, I was like, ‘Hey, guys, this guy might need to hear from somebody who's been there, done that themselves.’ So, being able to go talk to people and relate to them and say, ‘Hey, I hear you, I'm dealing with the same stuff you are, I'm your same age. I get it, it sucks,’ sometimes getting that perspective can be helpful. We'll say on rounds, ‘Hey, when this happened,’ or ‘Hey, when that happened,’ we sometimes get really focused on treating patients that sometimes we forget [to ask] should we really be doing that?

So, from the caregiver’s perspective, knowing the balance between yes, we always should, if we can, do something, but also knowing that importance of quality of life and knowing the importance of the wishes of the person you're taking care of. So sometimes taking that step to be like, ‘Hey, is this what they want? Are we just doing what we could do,’ and so taking a minute to really be like, ‘Okay, just because we can, should we,’ and really making sure that goals of care and patients are really informed on these decisions.

Being able to have that autonomy, I think, is one thing that's important to me—I just want to make sure that people know what they're getting themselves into. If they want to go down with their boots on, that's fine. I just want to make sure that that's what they know they're doing, and they also know there is an option to say no. It's okay to stop, it is okay to choose quality of life and choose other ways for us to support them instead of maybe going hardcore with aggressive care therapies, and instead switching more to make them comfortable—and that's okay.

So, sometimes, going through that with my family, being able to say, ‘Hey, guys, have we had this conversation, is this something that we need to have a conversation [about]?’ Because sometimes we get so fixated on fixing people, like, ‘Oh, we can do this, we can do that.’ And it's like, ‘Wait a minute, yes, we can, but let's talk to them first.’ So, I think that's a role that I really tried to be cognizant of is making sure that patients’ wishes are heard and then that they really are well educated to be able to make a firm decision.