Blue Devil of the Week: Providing Support to Cancer Patients

From pet therapy to family counseling, Kristy Everette helps cancer patients with their diagnosis

Blue Devil of the Week: Providing Support to Cancer Patients
Kristy Everette, clinical operations supervisor with Cancer Patient Support at Duke Cancer Center, sits with Hoshi, a two-year-old black lab who takes part in the Pet Therapy program. Photo by Beth Hatcher.

Kristy Everette

Position:  Clinical Operations Supervisor with Cancer Patient Support at Duke Cancer Center

Time at Duke: 12 years

What she does at Duke:

“My role here is to focus on the social and emotional needs of oncology patients and their families,” said Everette. Her department, Cancer Patient Support, oversees numerous free programs ranging from pet therapy to family counseling – all designed to aid patients and their families working through the psychological effects of cancer. A typical day starts with rounds in the Cancer Center and checking with the team and ensuring areas like the Patient Resource Center, Quiet Room and Belk Boutique are “ready to rock ‘n’ roll.” “Next, I'll check in with our volunteer coordinator to make sure that we are all set with volunteer programming for the day,” said Everette, who then usually spends the rest of her day in meetings and handling email.

A personal connection to cancer:

As a cancer survivor, Everette beat squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue in her 20s. Now 36, she understands the importance of dealing with cancer’s emotional fallout. She also understands the importance of involving the whole family in understanding and processing a diagnosis. Everette’s mother survived breast cancer when Everette was in high school. Her mom also survived stage 3 melanoma when she was in college.

“A cancer diagnosis affects the whole family,” Everette said.

Good dogs:

Pet therapy is one of the cornerstones of the Cancer Patient Support program. Currently, 22 “on-staff,” privately-owned dogs work shifts at the Cancer Center and around Duke hospital, greeting patients and family members in public spaces of the center. Last year, pet therapy dogs served over 10,500 patients at Duke Health. A calm temperament’s more important than breed for participating dogs, she said. “No dog is discriminated against,” Everette joked, though she noted that often Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers do well in the work because of their low-key, obedient demeanors. The dogs often lower patients’ stress during wait times for procedures, medical visits and more.

What she loves about Duke:

“I love my team. We have the best group of people who genuinely care,” Everette said. Duke’s at the forefront of psychosocial programming and places value on the programming’s benefits to cancer treatment, she added.

A memorable day at work:

On June 7, the Cancer Center celebrated Supportive Care and Survivorship Day. During the annual celebration for survivors and their families, a crowd watched a video in which survivors talked about how the Cancer Patient Support programs helped them. Everette was touched by the video’s emotional responses from former patients. The videos reminded Everette of how much Cancer Patient Support programs mean to cancer patients and their entire families.

A special object in her workspace:

“Anything a patient has ever made for me, I keep a drawer of,” Everette said.

Many of these items are cards, with kind words expressing thanks for providing support during difficult times. Often, patients make Everette items during the arts and crafts opportunities provided by Cancer Patient Support.

“I have homemade picture frames, wreaths, figurines of dogs and personalized magnets,” she said.

First ever job:

Working in the tobacco fields of her Eastern North Carolina family farm as a child. Everette grew up in Whitakers, N.C., a small town about 15 miles north of Rocky Mount, N.C. Tobacco farming, often hot and draining under a sizzling Carolina sun, taught Everette a strong work ethic. “Working hard is the only way,” Everette said.

Best advice received:

“We all put on our pants the same way.” Everyone should be respected, no matter position or title, Everette added.

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