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Find Your Advocate: Oncology Social Work

Find Your Advocate: Oncology Social Work

Navigating a new cancer diagnosis and treatment can be challenging and overwhelming. You may have a lot of questions that come up, some that you never imagined you’d be asking. You or your caregivers may feel alone or that you do not have enough support. You often only get a few minutes with your doctors, might feel shuffled from appointment to appointment, or don’t know your way around the cancer center. You may be facing difficulties juggling your work with treatment, having trouble paying for your new prescriptions, or do not know how to tell your children about your diagnosis. You don’t have to walk through this process blind; oncology social workers are available to help be a support and advocate for you throughout your cancer care and beyond.

What do oncology social workers do?

You may be wondering what exactly an oncology social worker does. Social workers are specially trained individuals who help individuals, families, and communities with issues such as emotional support, financial issues, and health care. Oncology social workers are highly specialized in the field of cancer and able to help patients and families cope with unique issues they may be facing to help improve their quality of life.

Oncology social workers are often part of your cancer treatment team and play a very important role in your care. If you have not been introduced to the social worker at the cancer center where you are pursuing treatment, you can ask your physician for a referral. If there is not a social worker where you are seeking cancer treatment, there are other avenues through which you can seek support. If you are getting any home care from a nursing or hospice agency, they likely have a social worker on their team who can come to your home. If you are unable to meet with someone in person, there are a lot of ways to connect with a social worker online or over the phone. Cancer Care in New York City offers financial counseling or connection with an oncology social worker over the phone, among a variety of other resources. The American Cancer Society is another great resource to go to for local support services.

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 logistical issues such as transportation to and from appointments, navigating their insurance, or getting equipment, such as a walker or wheelchair, in the home. I advocate for patients to have better communication with their medical team and the cancer center. I connect patients and families to community resources, such as bereavement support or charities to provide financial support. I am also available to support patients and families with emotional health, either through individual and family counseling or by making connections to therapists or psychiatrists that accept their insurance.

Most importantly, my job is to help patients navigate 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 and supportive to you and your loved ones.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • ducky1
    1 year ago

    I too don’t have a Oncology Social Worker. It’s lonely and scary not having that one go to person. My family is caring and there for me. But Iam missing a person to help me though my procedures and the next step and so on. My Uro Dr. is great and his staff. A go to person would be great. Thank you at BCAN for being here.

  • Sarah Wallin moderator
    1 year ago

    Hello ducky1,
    Feeling lonely and scared when going through your journey with bladder cancer can be quite normal. I’m so glad to hear that your family helps to care and support you, and that your Uro Dr. and staff are great. BCAN is another excellent resource! We hope this community may be helpful to you as well.

    Thanks for commenting and sharing here. Keep us posted on how you are doing!
    -Sarah ( Team Member)

  • vistadelmar
    2 years ago

    Unfortunately, I have insurance with Kaiser and they do not offer any Oncology or Urology Social Worker assistance. So, I have had to be my own advocate, not always easy. And I live alone, am 81, and have been something of a loner. As a professional writer and journalist, work was my primary source of joy. I have two children, one of whom lives 400 miles away, but is very supportive. We text and talk, at least once a week. The other child lives near me, but he is pretty much in denial, and doesn’t visit. Fortunately, I do have a new and wonderful friend, optimistic, who has helped me discover new joys, and I am learning to accept the challenge of life, that is to change, and greeting neighbors, even with just a smile or to say hello.

  • Sarah Wallin moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi vistadelmar,

    I am so sorry to hear that your insurance did not offer an oncology or urology social worker. Having to be your own advocate can take a lot of persistence and courage. I am glad to hear about your new friend who has kept you smiling during this tough experience. I hope that the community here can be a means of support and encouragement to you as well.

    Thank you for sharing here with the community,
    Sarah ( Team Member)

  • Renata Louwers
    2 years ago

    Thank you for this article and for the work you do. I found the oncology social workers to be the most helpful resource that the cancer center offered. This was precisely for the reason you note: you wear many hats. Cancer overlaps so many areas of our lives and the doctors are focused on treating the medical portion of it. Oncology social workers help fill in the many gaps.

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