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Social Work Services During Cancer Treatment

Deborah
This is Weekly Dose of Wellness, brought to you by MemorialCare Health System. Here's Deborah Howell. Welcome to the show. I'm Deborah Howell and today we'll be talking about social work services during cancer treatment. Our guest is Sonja Oliveira, a licensed clinical social worker at Memorial Care Orange Coast Medical Center. Welcome, Sonja.

Sonja
Thank you.

Deborah
Why would a patient that's been diagnosed with cancer be referred to social work services?

00;00;35;25 - 00;01;01;05
Sonja
Initially, the main thing would be support for patient and families, but primarily it's for newly diagnosed patients or patients that are currently in the process of an admission. And during that time, I would provide resources and include financial, home care, supportive resources such as support groups, individual interventions, self care information and most importantly, navigating through the care system.

Deborah
Sure. Now, what's the general response of patients when they're first diagnosed with cancer and need social work services?

Sonja
The two most common and appropriate responses include shock and denial. Initially, when a patient receives that diagnosis, the information quite hasn't set with the patient. It doesn't mean that it's right or wrong. It's just everybody goes through the process at their own pace. The second response would be basically just staying calm. For most people, that seems to be kind of a shock, but it's actually a relatively normal response. Basically, what that means is at that moment, their patient is just still processing all the information that the care team has been given to them. Social work can be a support to assist in processing the information that's being given to the patient. Sometimes we can just be that person that sits at the patient's bedside and just be a person that can listen to you.

Deborah
Right. It's so important just to listen. What's the required training and certification for a licensed clinical social worker?

Sonja
You would have to have a bachelor's degree. Doesn't necessarily mean it has to be associate degree. But most importantly, you do have to have a master's in social work. Following that, you are required to do a two years postgraduate training and then after that you would pass the California State Licensing exam.

Deborah
Okay. Fair enough. And then how would you describe the process of requesting social work services?

Sonja
It's actually a very simple process. There's a couple of ways it can be done. The first patient can directly call the social Work Services department at (714) 378-7146, or a person from the care team can also provide a referral. It could be a nurse, doctor, case manager. Anybody that is part of the care team can initiate a referral or consult to the social Work Services department.

Deborah
Okay. And here's kind of the meat of the matter. What topics do you discuss with cancer patients when performing an assessment?

Sonja
So, an assessment for us is usually referred to as a psychosocial assessment. It's very basic. Generally at the beginning we just obtain general information demographics age date of birth. We also ask questions in regards to living situation. We want to make sure that a patient has a stable housing situation or if there's any risk of homelessness, we will assist with that as well, the best that we can. We also ask questions in regards to patient's ability to perform their ADLs, which is known as dressing, toiletry and bathing, ability to walk again, to be able to connect them and provide them with the best support. We also ask about family and support system. We want to make sure that the patient is being supported throughout this entire process. We also inquire about finances, mental health history, and as well as families ability to understand what is going on and how families are coping. We also ask questions in regards to substance abuse history as well as advanced health care planning. We want to know who that individual it is that will be there in the event that a patient needs a surrogate decision maker. We also inquire about transportation, follow up care, discharge information, and lastly, we provide resources accordingly.

Deborah
I can't even imagine being diagnosed with cancer being from time to time homeless or without transportation services, maybe without family or friends, and then trying to cope with cancer at the same time. It's just incredible. So how can social work services be beneficial for newly diagnosed cancer patients?

Sonja
Social work allows patients the ability to process information received, be able to obtain resources, also to know what to expect and ongoing support throughout their treatments.

Deborah
And then maybe you could tell us what are some common self-care recommendations you'd suggest for someone going through cancer treatment?

Sonja
The first would be support groups here at Orange Coast. We also provide support groups, individual therapy, physical activities, which is at your level of comfort. It could be walking, just be taking a stroll to sit outside. Hobbies are activities that you enjoy meditation, spend time with loved ones, journaling and most importantly, being kind to yourself.

Deborah
Are there any helpful resources for families and individuals who support the patient?

Sonja
Absolutely. So there's things such as talk therapy for individuals, couples, and families. If there are children in the home, there are books that can pertain to various types of cancers. It's also important to make sure, regardless of the age of the child, it could be a minor. It can be a high school or can be an adult who's in college. There are various resources in schools that a lot of parents aren't aware of. That can be a support to all of them. It's okay for families to have questions. The more education that you have, the better a family member can assist and be a part of that support system. You can also obtain education through American Cancer Society, as well as just sitting down and having a conversation with the care team. Journaling is also important. Meditation as well, and understanding that everyone in the family is going through this at their own pace.

Deborah
I think it's also important to know that every phase is temporary. It's not going to be this forever and I think that sometimes helps. So how can counseling and support groups be beneficial?

Sonja
It allows for education and hearing others perspectives as well as their point of view. It also allows for time to reflect listening and learning, and be a part of a community that is going through similar situations.

Deborah
And Sonia, what resources does Memorial Care Orange Coast Medical Center provide to cancer patients about social work services?

Sonja
The social work services Department is available seven days a week. We can be reached by phone, again, (714) 378-7146. Or we can also be available during admission while a patient is at outpatient services as well. Again, if a patient is unaware of how to contact us, they can just simply notify the nurse or the physician for a request in terms of a console for social services. At that point, again, we can provide support groups, financial information, community resources for patients and families, assist with facilitating referrals to other disciplines. And again, our support groups are available to all patients. We currently have two groups going on. The first one is the Cancer Care Support Group and the second is a women's cancer care support group. And I personally can be reached in order to get in to the groups.

Deborah
Wonderful. The important thing is to not feel alone while you're going through the cancer treatment process, right?

Sonja
Absolutely.

Deborah
Well, thank you so much, Sonya, for your time and your expertise today. You're doing really important work, and we really enjoyed having you on the show.

Sonja
Thank you so much.

Deborah
For more information about social work services during cancer treatment, please call (714) 378-7146 and to listen to any of our informative podcasts, please visit MemorialCare.org/podcasts. That's all for this time. I'm Deborah Howell. Have yourself a terrific day.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Sonia Olivera, MSW, LCSW, discusses the importance of social work services during cancer treatment, what patients may experience during the process, as well as self-care recommendations and resources available for patients at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center.

Sonia Olivera, MSW, LCSW, has more than 10 years of experience as a licensed clinical social worker in a hospital setting and joined MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in 2020. She’s originally from Los Angeles, California. Sonia received her bachelor’s degree in social work from California State University, Los Angeles in 2007, and received her master’s degree in social work from California State University, Los Angeles in 2016.

Social Work Services During Cancer Treatment Questionnaire

The purpose of a social worker’s patient assessment is to identify any physical, emotional or financial needs of a patient.
After meeting with a social worker, a cancer patient prioritizes getting adequate sleep, scheduling regular massages and walking outside. These are all examples of self-care.
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