On a Friday morning in November, Danette felt unsettled after speaking with her surgical oncologist. She remembers hearing a lot of new information and medical jargon, she was over overwhelmed and spiraling out of control. Having navigated her new cancer diagnosis for a couple of months, she felt well-equipped with resources from her healthcare provider. However, on this day, her nurse navigator was out of town, the cancer counseling line was closed on Fridays and the website she usually utilized was down.
Support Team Assisted Response (STAR)
Danette knew she needed immediate support with her mental health. With nowhere left to turn, she dialed 911. She told the 911 operator about her crisis, and they sent Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) to help her. When someone calls 911 in Denver for a behavioral health crisis, instead of sending the police, 911 sends a team comprised of a licensed behavioral health professional from WellPower and a Denver Health paramedic to the person in distress.
When the STAR team arrived, Danette was immediately relieved to be in the company of two social workers and a paramedic. The paramedic mentioned that her father was a surgeon and understood why the conversation had upset Danette greatly. She helped Danette recognize that surgeons can be very factual with their language and their job is to fight the disease
Danette felt very supported by the STAR team. They even played with her cat who had been acting out because Danette was so upset. She mentioned how worried she felt about her upcoming surgery as she didn’t have anyone to care for her cat. The counselors told her that the local animal shelter could board her cat while she was in the hospital. Danette was so relieved to hear about this resource. She felt every message she needed to hear was coming from each person that was part of the STAR team.
“The best thing that Denver has is the STAR program,” said Danette. “They can handle any crisis. Everyone was so compassionate. Everyone knew where I was coming from. I thought I was overreacting, and they could all relate to my experience. They understood how it threw me through a loop.”
The counselors went through the paperwork Danette received at her appointment. With the cancer counseling center closed, they referred Danette to WellPower’s new TherapyDirect program. TherapyDirect provides up to three virtual sessions with a counselor for anyone in metro Denver, age 18 and up, no insurance required.
Getting connected to TherapyDirect
By the time the STAR staff left, Danette was calm enough to act on the plan the team helped her create. The first thing she did was call TherapyDirect. “When I spoke with the intake person, I was worried about getting disconnected – I have flaky internet,” commented Danette. “The person said that the STAR team had sent over all her information, I couldn’t believe how seamless of a transfer it was.”
Danette was connected to a counselor from TherapyDirect late Friday afternoon. “She was excellent; she said I wasn’t overreacting and helped me identify how I was taking care of myself,” Danette said.
Danette had therapeutic tools that she used for pain management. Previously, she worked with a psychologist on utilizing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for her pain. ACT is a type of therapy that emphasizes acceptance to deal with negative thoughts, feeling, symptoms or circumstances.
Danette had used ACT to help eliminate pain medication and muscle relaxers from her life. The counselor demonstrated how these skills were transferable to her current situation.
“I thought I should use ACT and focus on fear rather than pain,” said Danette. “The counselor said fear was my reaction and the thing that I should focus is on uncertainty because that is what I was really having a hard time with – the uncertainty of everything.”
A complete mind shift
Danette’s counselor commented on how well she had set herself up for success. She acknowledged the hard work Danette had done with her pain management. This gave Danette hope that she could do the same with the focus on uncertainty.
On Friday evening, Danette now had resources to help get her through the weekend. Something that had felt impossible a few hours prior. Her counselor had reminded her of some breathing exercises as another tool, and they scheduled a follow-up call on Monday morning.
When Monday morning came, Danette said it felt like a night and day difference. At the end of her second TherapyDirect session, Danette made many connections in how she could handle the uncertainty. She said it felt like she had a complete mind shift.
Danette mentioned she would also like to lose weight but that she viewed it as a sacrifice – depriving herself of her favorite foods. Her counselor helped her reframe it into a gift you give yourself. Danette understood how it was another way to set herself up for success.
Support in all the right places
In addition, both the STAR team and TherapyDirect helped Danette understand her family dynamics. “The STAR counselors helped explain that some of my family was being somewhat distant and not as supportive as they usually were because our whole family has PTSD from breast cancer,” commented Danette. “My mother died when my twin sister and I were 10- years old. Then my older sister had breast cancer. As a trauma response, our family goes into separate spaces, and we don’t support each other as much as usual. It’s like it’s contagious.”
Danette now knows that she doesn’t have to tell her family everything. She has identified the roles that her family is good at and where she can involve them. She also identified when it ends up being more energy for her to involve certain people because the fear can be overwhelming. Now she is better equipped to handle some things on her own.
Danette is saving her third TherapyDirect appointment in case she needs it in the future. “I have been using the tools I learned for this situation, and I am not thinking about cancer all of the time anymore,” Danette said. “It was so great that the TherapyDirect counselor could show me how the ACT tools for pain could be used for uncertainty. It was so valuable for her to point out that I had set myself up for success. It gave me hope.”