Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center


Willy's story

When William Weber started experiencing painful symptoms related to his cancer, he and his wife Gwen focused on finding relief and a higher quality of life.

As a registered nurse and founding member of the nursing staff of VCU Massey Cancer Center’s palliative care program, Gwen was in a unique position to know exactly whom to call. Her firsthand experience working with Massey’s internationally recognized clinicians gave her confidence that the palliative care approach would ease Willie’s pain and help him gain the strength to carry on with daily life.

 “We look at palliative care as a bridge that connects advanced disease and pain with symptom relief and quality of life,” said Patrick Coyne, M.S.N., A.P.R.N., F.A.A.N., clinical director of the program. “Above all else, our goal is to relieve suffering in every patient, often working hand-in-hand with physicians administering life-prolonging treatments .”

While palliative care is generally sought by patients with advanced illnesses, it can be provided simultaneously with curative or life-prolonging care at any time. For patients like Willie, palliative care offers a chance to enjoy the extended life that advanced medical care provides, without suffering through unbearable pain and side effects from that treatment.

“It’s a great relief to talk with the palliative care doctors and know that they are not only considering my disease, my symptoms and their treatment, but me as a person and how my cancer impacts my life,” said Willie. “The symptom relief is just as much a lifesaver as the medicine that treated my cancer.”

Palliative care is designed to foster comfort through symptom control, pain management, holistic support and practical assistance, and most especially patience, kindness and individual attention. Each patient is assigned an interdisciplinary team that includes highly specialized physicians and nurses, social workers, physical and occupational therapists, chaplains, psychologists and volunteers. All of these experts are dedicated to the patient’s physical comfort, emotional and psychological health, and social and spiritual needs.

“Massey has pioneered approaches to incorporating pain and symptom management into the treatment of all patients with cancer and other serious diseases, beginning at the time of diagnosis,” said Egidio Del Fabbro, M.D., medical director of the program and a nationally recognized expert in palliative care. “Our program views the patient and family together as the ‘unit of care,’ which has helped to make Massey a model for others to emulate. Throughout the treatment process, we are always paying attention to patient and family needs, values and culture in order to make possible the highest quality of life.”

This approach provides great opportunity for patients like Willie, who will benefit from ongoing pain and symptom management. “As patients continue their lives with a chronic illness, the pain and other symptoms aren’t necessarily static,” added Coyne. “The palliative care approach invites ongoing modification of pain relief solutions and encourages tune-ups to ensure patients’ symptoms are being managed as effectively as possible.”

Massey’s inpatient palliative care unit was one of the first in the nation. Today, there are six physicians and two advanced practice nurses who are board certified in palliative care among Massey’s clinical faculty.

“After cancer, each day is a gift,” Willie said, “but that gift comes in much different packaging with the benefit of palliative care. We are so grateful.”

In memory of Willie Weber, who passed away in 2011.