Oncology Social Workers: Guiding Patients Through Survivorship


As a cancer survivor, you know how tough it is to navigate the healthcare system, figure out what types of doctors you need to see, which individual doctors to see, how to get to their offices, what your insurance does and does not cover, etc. You’re also realizing that the challenges don’t end after cancer treatment. They just become different. The ripple effect of cancer touches every aspect of life-- emotional, psychological, social and financial.

Will you return to work? If so, how will you explain your absence to coworkers? Has your body changed? If so, how can you learn to accept the new you? Are you struggling to create a new normal after being a “patient” for so long?

Cancer survivors grapple with different challenges when living life after cancer. Often, these challenges are too much for one person and even one family to manage on their own. That’s one reason oncology social workers exist: to help cancer patients transition to cancer survivors after treatment ends.

What is an Oncology Social Worker?

Oncology social workers typically have a master’s degree from an accredited school of social work and a current licensed clinical social worker license. A few years ago, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conducted a question and answer session with two experts: Iris Cohen Fineberg, then president of the Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW) and Penelope Damaskos, then president-elect of AOSW.

Oncology social workers, they explained, are patient and family advocates. They help patients find helpful resources, understand their diagnosis, figure out their medical and insurance coverage, and learn how to talk to their family, especially children, about cancer. They help patients and their families coping with the initial diagnosis and the different stages of treatment. They lead cancer support groups and conduct research. They provide emotional support to help cancer care providers manage the stressors and losses associated with their jobs.

Real-life situations that an oncology social worker can help with include:

  • Finding transportation to appointments.
  • Providing guidance on how to talk to your children about what’s happening.
  • Managing and overcoming depression or anxiety. 
  • Adapting to a lifestyle with less independence or struggles with not being the breadwinner.
  • Worries about being a burden on your family and other caregivers.

Oncology social workers also help patients transition to survivorship. As any survivor knows, cancer doesn’t stop affecting one’s life after it has been cured. These specialized social workers serve as a support system for survivors struggling to re-enter the workforce, cope with long-term side effects of cancer treatment, and move past feelings of loss and anxiety many survivors have.

What Survivors Should Know About Oncology Social Workers

The most important thing you should know is that oncology social workers are available to you, even after you’ve completed treatment. The even better news? They are often provided to you at no cost through your cancer treatment center or community-based cancer organizations.

As the survivor, you set the pace. You can meet with an oncology social worker once or twice to get help with something specific, like sorting out an insurance claim. Or, you can meet with an oncology social worker regularly to discuss challenges you’re facing, such as coming to terms with changes to your body or your marriage.

Many survivors are fortunate to be surrounded by a caring support group of family members and friends. Many others lack a dependable support system. Regardless of what your situation is, support is available. You simply need to ask for it! Oncology social workers are standing by to help you. Even if your support system runs deep, sometimes it’s nice to talk to someone outside your inner circle. Sometimes you need help with issues that you’d prefer to remain confidential. Why not reach out and take advantage of this amazing resource?

Compass Oncology's Social Workers

At Compass Oncology we know we achieve the best care for our patients when we give them support in every way. Compass Oncology has a team of oncology social workers that are all about providing support for patients and their caregivers outside of their actual cancer treatment plan.

What makes our oncology social workers unique is that they are active members of your cancer care team who are always ready to assist. The support they provide takes many forms from the practical to the emotional to the spiritual. Their focus is on the issues that are so important to the quality of life during and after cancer treatment. We encourage our patients to take advantage of this resource.

Compass Oncology has a team of oncology social workers in the Portland-Vancouver area that helps cancer survivors with a variety of resources, such as cancer survivor support groups and classes.

Learn More About Compass' Cancer Survivorship Program