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Find Your Advocate: Oncology Social Workers

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on our sister community, by Alison Petok, MSW, LCSW, MPH.

Navigating a new cancer diagnosis and treatment can be challenging. You may have a lot of questions that come up, some of which you never thought you would ask. You or your caregivers may feel alone or like you do not have enough support.

You often only get a few minutes with your doctors. You might feel shuffled from appointment to appointment. You may not know your way around the cancer center. You may be facing difficulties juggling your work with treatment or have trouble paying for your medicine. Maybe you do not know how to tell your children about your condition.

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You do not have to walk through this process blind. Oncology social workers are available as supports and advocates for you while you are being treated and afterward.

What do oncology social workers do?

You may wonder what exactly an oncology social worker does. Social workers are trained to help with issues such as emotional support, financial issues, and healthcare. Oncology social workers are specialized in the field of cancer. These experts are able to help cancer patients and their families cope with unique issues they may be facing.

Oncology social workers can play an important role in your care. If you have not been introduced to the social worker at your cancer center, ask your physician for a referral.

If there is not a social worker at your cancer center, there are other avenues for support. If you are getting home care from a nursing or hospice agency, they likely have a social worker on their team. If you are unable to meet in person, you can connect with a social worker online or over the phone. Cancer Care in New York City offers connection with an oncology social worker over the phone. The American Cancer Society is another great resource.

A resource for help and support

When my patients ask me what I do, I often tell them I wear many different hats.

I help people with:

  • Logistics (getting to and from appointments, figuring out insurance, getting equipment like walkers or wheelchairs)
  • Advocacy with doctors and other healthcare workers
  • Connection to resources (bereavement support, charities to provide financial support)
  • Emotional support (individual and family counseling, or connection to mental health professionals covered by insurance)

Most importantly, my job is to help patients find their way around new terrain. I am a friendly face and someone who you can connect with easily, over the phone or in person.

I hope you are able to meet a social worker during your cancer journey who can be helpful to you and your loved ones.

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