This is a guest blog post by our friends at Cancer Support Community in honor of National Social Work month.
There is so much more that goes into treating cancer than just chemotherapy or radiation, and the number of professionals who provide help is enormous. There’s a radiologist to decode your scans and x-rays, an oncologist to talk specifics about cancer, a nurse to take care of your vitals and medication, and on and on. This month, in honor of National Social Work Month, CSC recognizes one other very important member of the team—the oncology social worker. They’re the ones who take care of YOU.
Oncology social workers, like all social workers, seek to improve the quality of life for the people they work with, and this doesn’t just mean the patients. This means the individuals, families, loved ones, groups and communities who are impacted by a cancer diagnosis. As a show of appreciation for the endless support and care they provide, CSC has been honoring one oncology social worker every day as a part of our #31DaysOfSW campaign on Twitter. We also got the chance to ask CSC oncology social workers all about their day-to-day, and what they liked best about their career. We could tell you what tell you what they said—or we could let them tell you in their own words.
How did you get started in social work?
I started my career in what is now the “Murder Capital” of the US, Camden, NJ. When I started, the other young social workers were pretty much in the same boat; idealistic, cocky; to use a cliché, it felt like we could make a difference. Sometimes on Protective Services calls we went with the police. Back then a Policeman told me how sometimes he didn’t know how we did our jobs. I said I felt the same way about him. He responded by saying, “…you go into madhouses carrying a notebook, I go in carrying a gun.” I dove into Social Work and have never looked back. Times have changed, systems are far more complicated, but the need to be mindful of each of our dignity remains the same.
—Jim McManus, LCSW BCD DCSW OSW-R
How do you help patients cope with all the stress and emotional turmoil of the cancer experience?
First and foremost, I try to just listen to what they have to say with empathy, compassion and no judgment. I let them know they are not alone and whatever they are feeling at the moment is exactly what they should be feeling. Furthermore, I always mention it takes a tremendous amount of courage and strength to ask for help and show vulnerability. It is these traits that will help them become more active and involved in their treatment and result in more positive outcomes.
—Justin Short, MPH, MSW, LCSW
Have you ever had a specific experience where you felt, “This is why I do this?”
Just ONE? I get many at each and every shift. I should keep count at each shift how many people THANK ME for simply returning their call, or listening to them rather than passing them on to another resource if we can’t help them with their particular issue. Some days callers just need a place to put their pain. We are that place.
—Charli Prather, MSW, LCSW , Helpline Counselor
What is the #1 thing you have learned from being an Oncology Social Worker?
Over time I realized that the only way for me to make sense of both these experiences and in a small way honor all of those “teachers” who didn’t have the luxury of living long and happy lives was to be present as possible in my own life. For me this means that my awareness is focused on what’s happening right here and right now. I try not to worry about the future, obsess about the past, or hope for things that are beyond my control. In practicing this way of living, I believe it helps me to be a better mother, sister, aunt, friend, co-worker and yes, Oncology Social Worker.
–Sara Goldberger, LCSW-R
How have social workers changed your cancer journey?
For more resources, information about CSC’s programs and services and to speak to a licensed-mental health professional, please call the Cancer Support Helpline at 1-888-793-9355. The Helpline is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9.p.m. ET.