3 things to know about oncology social work: #31DaysofSW

March is National Social Work Month. In honor of our many social workers, CSC is featuring a new blog every day this week from a different CSC social worker. You can also send out your own tribute to any social worker who has made a difference during your cancer journey on social media with the hashtag #31DaysofSW. Today’s #31DaysofSW blog post is from Justin Short, MPH, MSW, LCSW. Justin is a Cancer Support Helpline counselor. 

short_justin_select_1_small

Q: How do you help patients cope with all the stress and emotional turmoil of the cancer experience?

Justin: 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.

Q: How do you cope with the emotional rollercoaster that your job can put you through?

Justin: I cope in several ways:

  1. Trail-running in the mountains around my home as often as I can.
  2. Fly-fishing in Yellowstone National Park.
  3. Regularly sharing my emotions with my co-workers, family and good friends.
  4. Hiking with my wife and dog to our local brewery.
  5. Mindfulness meditation and creative drawing.

Q: What is the number one thing you have learned from being an oncology social worker?

Justin: The number one thing I have learned from being an oncology social worker is actually sort of a selfish thing. I love learning how to face my own adversity in life from the clients, patients and families I have the honor of meeting and working with every single day. Being regularly exposed to people exhibiting an awe-inspiring level of resilience, strength and fortitude in the light of one of life’s biggest challenges humbles me to the core – and makes me want to be a better person and not take a single moment for granted.

Posted in Cancer Support, CSC Events | Leave a comment

A Day in the Life: #31DaysofSW

March is National Social Work Month. In honor of our many social workers, CSC is featuring a new blog every day this week from a different CSC social worker. You can also send out your own tribute to any social worker who has made a difference during your cancer journey on social media with the hashtag #31DaysofSW. Today’s #31DaysofSW blog post is from Charli Prather, MSW, LCSW. Charli is a Cancer Support Helpline counselor. 

cpc headshotQ: Why did you choose to work with people impacted by cancer?

Charli: This is my 2nd career.  I decided to work with hospice and oncology patients after my first cancer diagnosis at age 27.  When I was diagnosed a 2nd time at age 35, I KNEW that working with cancer patients was going to be challenging, so I worked with hospice patients first.  I wanted to put a few years between me and my diagnosis so that I could be an effective practitioner to those who were in need of professional support.

Q: Have you ever had a specific experience where you felt, “This is why I do this”?

Charli: 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.  

Q: How do you help patients cope with all the stress and emotional turmoil of the cancer experience?

Charli: I never try to “fix it” for them with platitudes.  Cancer patients need to hear that what they are going through stinks.  The call line is a place for them to find refuge, to be heard, to vent.  Finding them resources is only part of our job on the call line.  We have a commitment to each and every caller to hear them out, and if we can’t find an answer for them, we’ll at least listen to their story and try to find an organization that may be able to link them to someone who CAN assist them.  Some days, when nothing is there to help them out of their situation, I have to remember that some times, all we can do is hold that painful space for them. If they aren’t open to really sharing their story, I may just ask them “how are you holding up” or what are you going to do for yourself when you hang up?”

Q: How do you cope with the emotional rollercoaster that your job can put you through?

Charli: I have a daily yoga and meditation practice.  I also teach yoga and meditation to special populations (Veterans, cancer patients, MS patients, bigger bodied yogis).  Becoming a Registered yoga Teacher was just part of my journey to better self care after realizing I wasn’t “walking my talk” after several years of survivorship.  When we take on another’s pain, the only way to shed that pain is through movement and acts of joy.

Posted in Cancer Support, CSC Events | Leave a comment

What I’ve learned from being an oncology social worker- #31DaysofSW

March is National Social Work Month. In honor of our many social workers, CSC is featuring a new blog every day this week from a different CSC social worker. You can also send out your own tribute to any social worker who has made a difference during your cancer journey on social media with the hashtag #31DaysofSW. Today’s #31DaysofSW blog post is from Sara Goldberger, LCSW-R. Sara is the Senior Director of Programs at the Cancer Support Community Headquarters. 

Sara headshot dec v3

I have been an oncology social worker for 25 years.  There are many lessons I have learned but probably the one that has transformed my life is to try to live each day with as much presence in the moment as I can.  I admit that this isn’t always easy but the closer I stay to living in the moment, the more I experience the joy of being alive and the less I worry about what’s to come or trying to control what’s beyond my control.

I began my career in Oncology Social Work in a hospital that provided palliative care for terminally ill cancer patients in an acute care setting.  In my case load I had close to 300 deaths each year.  My experiences here were certainly challenging, but I knew what the outcome would be for all my patients.  Everyone died. I listened to their stories about regret, love, loss, triumph and tragedy.  Their attempt to make meaning of their lives.

My next job was as a Program Director at a Gilda’s Club. There the outcome was less certain and very unpredictable.  The woman with early stage breast cancer who I expected to be fine had a swift recurrence and died.  The man with a stage 4 colon cancer is still alive today and enjoying his life.  I saw our members including the families struggle to live lives with very uncertain futures.  Some did this well; others not so well.  I tried to discern what it was that helped people to face the uncertain future with grace and dignity, and came to understand that it was those who accepted this uncertainty and lived their lives as fully as possible, whatever that meant to them.  I learned about living with uncertainty. I learned from those who had more difficulty accepting the uncertainty that this was not the path for me.

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.

Posted in Cancer Support, CSC Events | 3 Comments

Why I became a social worker- #31DaysofSW

March is National Social Work Month. In honor of our many social workers, CSC is featuring a new blog every day this week from a different CSC social worker. You can also send out your own tribute to any social worker who has made a difference during your cancer journey on social media with the hashtag #31DaysofSW. Today’s #31DaysofSW blog post is from Jim McManus, LCSW, BCD, DCSW, OSW-R. Jim is a Cancer Support Helpline counselor. 

Jim McManusBack in the 1960’s , as a young, newly married man, I felt a sense of hope for the future – if someone would just do something. I felt that I was up for the challenge. I was naïve. Had no idea of what would lie ahead; how my “liberalism,” idealism and good wishes were no match for engrained experiences and intractable behaviors that resulted in often disastrous consequences. I started my career in what is now the “Murder Capital” of the U.S.—Camden, New Jersey.  Crime was rampant then but not in the same way it is today. There is a sense of hopelessness about Camden. Too much poverty, not enough opportunities for kids, too much easy access to drugs and weapons. 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. They were members of the “team” back then, Much as were the prosecutors , judges and the all-important, judges’ scheduler. The scheduler could slip you into chambers to lobby for a client. We saw family issues as system problems and acted accordingly. On TV today, some police dialogue denigrates the role of the social workers. 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.”  We respected one another’s roles and connected accordingly.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta said, to work with anyone, it is vital to be aware of their dignity as human beings. This message proved its validity time and again. It was exciting to work with families adjudged as “delinquent” and see the impact of not judging and not pretending to know how it was for them. Many of the people we worked with were seldom afforded the opportunity to vent frustration, discuss options and consequences. Talking with someone with no axe to grind was a novel experience for many of our contacts. Working with families as the “State” was a tricky proposition. Our motives were suspect. We were felt to be the people who took children and separated families. Unfortunately, sometimes this was what happened. In many cases, as time went on, trust was established, shields were lowered and positive relationships were able to be developed. People sometimes would decide to discard historically dysfunctional approaches to consider issues and chart a course for themselves that was out of their established comfort zone. No better feeling than experiencing people let themselves loose in the possible. Great stuff. 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.

Posted in Cancer Support, CSC Events | 1 Comment

Love your social workers: #31DaysofSW

Helping HandsPrimary care physicians, surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, nurses, oncology nurses…the list of people you can interact with during your cancer journey is seemingly endless—and it can change constantly. Each one of these professionals plays a different role in treating your cancer. But, add one more to the list, the oncology social worker—the person responsible for treating YOU.

A social worker seeks to improve the quality of life and well-being of individuals, families, couples, groups and communities through research, policy, community organizing, direct practice, crisis intervention and teaching.

For someone impacted by cancer, a social worker can make all the difference. Oncology social workers support patients and their loved ones in a myriad of ways, including providing available resources, information regarding medical and insurance coverage and tips for how to talk to your loved ones about your diagnosis. Oncology social workers often offer relaxation techniques to reduce anxiety, lead support groups and help identify areas of distress. They’re not just advocates for the patient, but for the whole family.

With 170 locations across the country and around the world, the Cancer Support Community is the largest employer of oncology mental health professionals, including many licensed social workers. At CSC we strive to ensure that cancer care is high-quality and patient-centered, and social workers are the core of this, as they focus on the whole patient in their every-day work.

All this month, CSC is saying a BIG thank you to our social workers for the unending support they provide to people impacted by cancer. Through our #31DaysofSW campaign on Twitter, you can read our daily tributes to our social workers, and this week you can learn more about some of them on our blog when we take you through a day in the life of 4 CSC social workers.

How have social workers changed your cancer journey? This month we are inviting you to share your story with us, and say a special thank you to your social worker by using the hashtag #31DaysofSW on our Facebook page and Twitter account. You can also share your story here.

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.

Posted in Cancer Support, CSC Events | Leave a comment