March is National Social Work Month

Northwestern Medicine
Cancer Care/Oncology March 26, 2014
Oncology social workerI've seen it happen so many times. A newly diagnosed patient hears the word "cancer," and something inside them shuts off. Hours later, when they're back at home staring at an empty coffee mug, they can't remember anything about prognosis, treatment options or resources. We understand. It's scary. That’s why we're here. 

The Supportive Oncology Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University includes a team of oncology social workers who understand the effects of stress and uncertainty on a person who is facing cancer. We offer support, hold your hand -- metaphorically and physically -- and focus on you and your needs. Some people come to us with questions about filling out Family Medical Leave Act paperwork and wonder how much, or how little, they should discuss with their bosses. Others reach out for more personal support. If the thought of walking out of the clinic and facing family or friends after a biopsy feels too daunting to handle alone, we can help you find the words. 

Some patients tell us that the shock and denial they feel makes them want to compartmentalize everything, and just wait for it all to go away. Oncology social workers can help you find ways to get through those difficult times. We can guide you to trusted resources, and help you rediscover or develop skills to cope with the challenges, big and small.

Breaking down goals into manageable and achievable tasks, and focusing on what you can do goes a long way to help you feel grounded when you’re overwhelmed. Focusing on the love of your family, achievements at work, or even the awareness that this too shall pass may help you move forward. Sometimes it takes a little processing to come to terms with the fact that nothing is all good or all bad. You are resilient, and you will get through this.

Oncology social workers do more than answer questions. We know that asking questions can help you determine the path you choose to forge for yourself. As uncomfortable as it may seem at first, sometimes we must “lean in” to the anxiety to honestly reflect on how to move forward.

Do you want to find a route that does not define you by the “big C” but, instead, incorporates it into your life experience? Do you prefer to concentrate on getting your life back to how it was before cancer? Whatever path you choose, we can give you the tools to get started. We won’t judge. We’re here to help you decide where you want to go, and how to get there.

The effort to balance cancer treatment with work, kids, or relationships can be stressful and exhausting. Social workers can help you get a sense of what to expect. They can help you ask for and accept assistance, and tap into available resources. If a support group, help managing your bills, a tasty meal, or a ride to treatment would improve the quality of your life, we’ll help make the connection. Just ask to meet with an oncology social worker and we’ll make sure that cancer isn’t the only word you hear.

As the Lurie Cancer Center’s Coordinator of Supportive Oncology Education, Mariam Eldeib, MSW, LCSW, provides personalized assistance to patients and families seeking information on diagnosis, treatment options, support groups and clinical trials, and offers appropriate referrals to other information sources. She is also involved with outreach and oversight of the Lurie Cancer Center’s volunteer program. You can contact Mariam at or 312.926.7377.
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