Dr. Shannon La Cava caps off first year as director of the Simms/Mann Center

Dr. La Cava received the Cancer Support Community of Los Angeles’ Wellness Award for her commitment to equitable psychosocial cancer care.
Dr. Shannon La Cava attends the Cancer Support Community of Los Angeles event.
Dr. Shannon La Cava was honored by the Cancer Support Community of Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of CSCLA)

Shannon La Cava, PsyD, director of the Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology, compares the center’s work to a circle – a healing circle with the patient in the center.

With counseling, nutritional guidance, support groups, educational workshops and spiritual care – all at no cost -- Simms/Mann programs “help create a wrap-around program for a patient going through cancer diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. La Cava says.

The Simms/Mann Center’s integrative approach means psychosocial support is an automatic part of an individual’s cancer care plan at UCLA Health. Simms/Mann clinicians work seamlessly alongside physicians, nurses and other providers caring for patients facing cancer.

Dr. La Cava’s career-long commitment to providing equitable access to psychosocial care for people with cancer was recognized in May by the Cancer Support Community of Los Angeles. A former leader at that organization, Dr. La Cava continues this work through the Simms/Mann Center, where she is about to mark her first anniversary as director.

“It’s about making sure that individuals have access to care, regardless of their demographics – regardless of their location, their language, their belief system,” she says. “The thread to what we do here is with our community clinics.”

Culturally congruent programs

Simms/Mann services are available in all 20 of UCLA Health’s cancer clinics, which stretch from South Orange County to San Luis Obispo. Each clinic caters to the population it serves, Dr. La Cava says, with culturally congruent care offered in the languages spoken in the area.

A recent educational program on metastatic breast cancer at the Alhambra clinic was conducted in Mandarin, for example, while other clinics present programs in Spanish and Armenian.

Simms/Mann clinicians often meet a patient when they show up for their first treatment infusion at these clinics, Dr. La Cava says, just to introduce themselves and offer support. Then, should that person seek counseling via telehealth, they’ll see a familiar face on the screen. 

Dr. La Cava has set a goal to visit all 20 clinics several times in the coming year.

As director of the Simms/Mann Center, she is also responsible for supporting its staff of clinicians, psychologists and other experts in what can be deeply emotional work. 

Even before Dr. La Cava took the helm, the center’s culture was one of warmth and mutual support, employees say, as they regularly reach out to one another for guidance and comfort. Dr. La Cava is shoring up these connections by implementing weekly consultations with clinical director Valentina Ogaryan, PhD, during which clinicians can review and discuss cases – and anything else on their minds. 

Looking toward the future

As Dr. La Cava wraps up her first year as director of the Simms/Mann Center, she’s brimming with excitement about the center’s future. 

First up is bringing on a program coordinator to oversee the expansion of online offerings, she says: “I think there’s going to be a burst of growth once we get that person in.”

Another priority is continuing work on a studio space in Santa Monica where the center can host cooking demonstrations, yoga sessions and other in-person events. 

And Dr. La Cava intends to continue adding to the center’s staff of licensed clinical social workers and licensed psychologists, who provide counseling and support to an ever-growing patient population.

“We want to make sure that all levels of care are in play,” Dr. La Cava says, “and that a person at any level of distress has the level of support they need.”

Next steps

Simms/Mann services are available at all 20 UCLA Health cancer clinics, from South Orange County to San Luis Obispo.

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