As social workers, we counsel a lot of patients with metastatic breast cancer. We provide a lot of psychosocial support and crisis intervention for patients and their families, and together we also run support groups.
There’s so much business attached to a diagnosis of cancer: be it financial, symptom management, or the change of roles within the patient’s family. Patients with cancer are seldom able to simply stop and process what is happening.
We advocate for the patients and the families to get what they need. And we try to create safe spaces where everyone can express themselves openly.
Patients with metastatic breast cancer cope with feelings of anxiety, anger, and a loss of control. The message today is often that breast cancer is nothing, we’ve beaten it, people get diagnosed and they survive forever. But someone who is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer is in a different boat, because the disease is incurable.
We help guide patients through the reality, help them be strong, and help them find meaning and purpose in life. It’s still possible to enjoy life, and that’s the goal.
We talk a lot about mindfulness, about mourning the loss of your healthy self. Caregivers also need opportunities to mourn the loss of that person as they were before cancer.
In some ways, coping with cancer can be harder for caregivers than the patients. Family members feel powerless and fear it would be selfish to meet their own needs.
We also do a lot of psycho-education, providing support and education about the illness simultaneously. Doctors are famous for using medical jargon, and patients are famous for not often feeling empowered enough to say “Stop, I didn’t understand that.” We often help patients write lists of questions to ask the next time they see their physician.
A social worker can really help facilitate communication with the entire team. Each member’s role here is interconnected, so we do our best to take care of everyone. It’s really an honor to be there for people who need it.
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Photography by Saul Palomo, Link9 Studio.