Social Workers Essential to Managing Cancer’s Ripple Effects

By Pat Carragher - March 22, 2021

A cancer diagnosis affects all aspects of life. While doctors and nurses care for a patient’s physical symptoms, there is so much more that goes into patient- and family-centered care. At Moffitt Cancer Center, specially trained social workers are essential to providing the support, guidance and resources needed to help cope with and manage so many aspects that come with a diagnosis of cancer.

Social workers can help you with:

  • Understanding emotions and ways to cope
  • Managing changes to relationships and family
  • Talking to children about a parent’s diagnosis
  • Discussing and completing an advance directive
  • Planning for end of life by creating a legacy for loved ones
  • Referral to Moffitt and community resources to help with support, home care, medical equipment, food, transportation, lodging and financial assistance

“We walk alongside the patients and their caregivers in understanding their cancer journey in the context of their life and the world around them,” said Donna DiClementi, manager of Outpatient Social Work at Moffitt. “They’re not cancer patients to us. They’re people living with cancer and that’s a huge difference.”

During a patient’s clinic appointments and when they are admitted to Moffitt, a trained team member will ask about their distress and coping. If there are concerns that cause distress, they will offer the services of our clinical social workers to make sure patients can get the help they need.

Working with Health Care Providers

Moffitt’s social workers collaborate with health care providers by giving them critical information about the patient that the providers may not know, which impacts their care.

“They’re people who have full, rich lives outside of their diagnosis,” said DiClementi. “We get to learn all about that and how the diagnosis is impacting their body, mind and spirit.”

Dr. Damon Reed is an oncologist in Moffitt’s Department of Individualized Cancer Management and the Director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Program. He’s seen firsthand the way Moffitt’s social workers care for patients of all ages.

“Cancer is bad enough for its physical nature of causing pain and discomfort and threatening patients’ lives, but there is unfortunately much more that it can cause,” said Reed.  “The emotional toll it takes on patients and their support systems is massive.  Social workers consider all of the ‘human’ factors that cancer affects to improve patient and family cancer journeys.  They anticipate bumps in the road, alleviate financial stressors, and guide patients by addressing their worries.”

portrait of blockquote author

"Social workers consider all of the ‘human’ factors that cancer affects to improve patient and family cancer journeys.  They anticipate bumps in the road, alleviate financial stressors, and guide patients by addressing their worries."

- Dr. Damon Reed

Why Are Social Workers Essential?

Dr. Pam Hodul

“Social workers are essential in that they complement the complex care requirements of our high acuity patients and address the emotional concerns of our patients and families,” said Dr. Pam Hodul, a gastrointestinal surgeon at Moffitt.

A person living with cancer is also concerned about COVID-19, possibly missing work, the impact the disease has on their children and their support system. It’s the role of the social worker to assist the patient in alleviating these worries.

Dr. Philippe Spiess is the assistant chief of Surgical Services and senior member of the Department of Genitourinary Oncology at Moffitt. He’s seen an increase in the supportive needs of his patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Philippe Spiess

"The level of understanding and engagement of our social workers, always being committed to addressing all of our patient’s emotional needs has been instrumental in allowing us to care for our patients through these truly unprecedented times,” said Spiess. “This global pandemic has created additional barriers and challenges for our patients and their families. It is truly remarkable that we have such an engaged social work team always meeting the needs of our patients and they without question deserve recognition for all their efforts and achievements.”

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