Social workers focus on patients strengths throughout their cancer journey
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Posted by: Duane Breijak
A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. In addition to treatment options and scheduling appointments, many patients have additional challenges or stressors to consider that occur outside the medical realm. To help handle all the obstacles that come with a cancer diagnosis, Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Greater Lansing provides its patients with access to social workers who focus solely on oncology patients.
Michele Loree, LMSW, OSW-C, and Heather Spotts, LMSW, OSW-C,, are licensed oncology social workers who meet with cancer patients and provide them with tools and resources to navigate their cancer journey.
“We really help look at the whole person. It’s the nature of healthcare for everyone to be focused on helping the patient get better and their medical needs,” Spotts said. “We are here to support them in all aspects of life, and let them know that we understand that all those areas are impacted by cancer, too.”
Most of the assistance the social workers provide falls into one of two categories, emotional support and community resource support. It can be difficult for patients and their families to cope with the new diagnosis, and coping with the treatment. As certified oncology social workers, Loree and Spotts are uniquely qualified to help patients cope emotionally in difficult times.
“We are able to help people with things like depression, anxiety, and sleep issues,” Spotts said. “Any of those emotional issues that patients also cope with while going through a cancer diagnosis.”
The two also provide logistical and community resource support, assisting patients who may need transportation to treatment, financial resources, information on talking to children about a cancer diagnosis, managing work, along with applying for programs such as Social Security Disability and Medicaid.
“We help identify potential challenges and barriers to treatment,“ Loree said. “We draw on a person’s strengths, support system, and community resources to assist them in overcoming those barriers.”
“If people are struggling with not having a ride, proper food, or don’t have a safe place to live, it’s hard for them to focus on their treatment,” Spotts said.
The relationship between the social workers and the patients does not end when the treatment ends. Loree and Spotts also work with survivors on coping and navigating challenges associated with life after cancer.
“After a person goes through their whole treatment and they start to reintegrate into their life, we help them to cope with what to expect and give them tools to help them improve their well-being during survivorship,” Spotts said.
In addition to individualized support, the hospital also offers a support group, exercise classes, and other resources for cancer survivors. The cancer support group meets monthly and features guest speakers such as dieticians, physical therapists, and acupuncturists who speak to the group on cancer specific topics. The hospital offers a weekly drumming class on Mondays 10-11 a.m. and a tai chi class on Wednesdays 1-2 p.m. for cancer survivors and caregivers. The classes are at no cost to the participants and are grant funded through the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation. The Breslin Cancer Center has a library staffed by volunteers from the American Cancer Society which provides many resources to patients and the public. The hospital will be hosting a Cancer Survivor’s Day Celebration on June 2, 2017.”
“Providing patients with all these opportunities gives them more of a sense of control and helps them get involved in their health and healing,” Spotts said.
The service Loree and Spotts provide comes at no additional out of pocket expense to the patients. Spotts and Loree seek out patients and work with them to determine what types of assistance the individual may need and develop a unique action plan.
To learn more about the oncology support resources, visit mclaren.org/lansingoncology.