How social work counselors help our cancer patients

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Traci721.jpgBy Traci Newsom, Social Work Counselor

A cancer diagnosis affects people differently. However, every cancer patient has one thing in common: At some point during their journey, they undoubtedly experience stress. As a social work counselor here at MD Anderson, it's part of my job to help alleviate some of that stress. I do this by enabling patients to better focus on themselves and their actual care.

What our social workers do
People expect to see medical providers at their appointments. But they often forget to ask about or are not aware of the additional support available to them. This support may include counseling services for patients and family members, providing resources specifically designed for children dealing with a parent's cancer diagnosis through the KIWI program (Children's Lives Include Moments of Bravery), or advanced care planning such as assistance completing a Medical Power of Attorney or Living Will. Social Work services are available to patients receiving care at the Main Campus in the Medical Center as well as our other locations in Katy, Memorial City, Bay Area, The Woodlands and Sugar Land.

As a social worker, I can enter the picture at any point in a patient's cancer journey depending upon their needs and concerns. However, I often begin working with patients when they receive a cancer diagnosis. At that point, most are feeling particularly overwhelmed and confused.

My role is to help cancer patients find resources that can provide them with relief and reassurance. That could mean connecting them or their family members with support groups, identifying organizations that can offer financial or transportation assistance, or counseling them through a very frightening time. I also work with the patient's care team to gain a deeper understanding of the patient's needs and concerns so that we can provide better care. .It is my job to listen to patients and their families' needs and determine the best course of action. I'm there for the patients as long as they need me.

Why I became a social work counselor
People often ask me if my job is ever sad. Absolutely. It can be very sad at times. I've learned I need to take care of myself just as I advise my patients to do. I exercise, spend quality time with family and friends and try to maintain a healthy diet. And, when I need to, I allow myself to cry and release the many emotions connected to the things I see and the people I encounter. This allows me to keep moving forward.

Although my job can be sad and overwhelming at times, it is also very gratifying. I feel blessed to be a part of so many patients' journeys and to help ease some of the burden they carry. Plus, it's amazing to witness the quality of care and advancements in medicine that allow more and more people to survive and thrive after cancer.

When I decided on social work as a career, I had many choices. I could work with children or the elderly, or in a school or private practice setting. However, it gives me such strength and hope to witness the determination and resilience of all the diverse patients I help through their cancer journeys. I can't imagine doing anything else.

If you have any questions or feel that you could benefit from additional support, please contact the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195, or ask your nurse or doctor to speak with a social work counselor.

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