Amy Colver, LCSW
Melody Griffith, MSW, LMSW, OSW-C
AOSW Communications Director
Jeanice Hansen, LCSW, OSW-C
To submit a story or information for inclusion in a future issue of AOSW Newsletter, contact Amy Colver or Melody Griffith on the list above.
Clinical Content: Letting Go
As sat at my desk in the final week of my role as an oncology social worker, I felt a bit panicky looking at the piles of paper, boxes, books, sticky notes and goodbye gifts. I was leaving my job to take better, more present care of my children and myself. But I was feeling some anticipatory grief at leaving a psychosocial program that I had created and nurtured over for the last six and a half years
Reflecting upon my time in this particular role, I am reminded that preparing a new program and preparing for a physical birth have much in common. The emotions and ideas are the same—excitement, adrenaline, pain, frustration, wonderment, joy, resistance, teamwork, fulfilled hopes, dashed expectations—they are all present. And then, the “letting go.”
The big letting go that happens when that baby finally arrives, when that project launches, when those services are in place for that patient. The letting go that is the realization that you created something separate from your self and that it is no longer wholly yours. You have to share that little someone or something with others, sometimes willingly, sometimes with great reluctance. So, in those final days at my job I realized I would have to let go of my literal grip on the desk, pack up my office, and be okay with what was going to happen with all of the education, processes and projects I had created.
Six and a half years ago, I was hired as the very first oncology social worker for my hospital’s cancer program. I was six years beyond my master’s degree and had absolutely no experience working with oncology patients. The hospital also had no experience in hiring an oncology social worker, so we were a match of sorts. The Program Director gave me an office, a computer and introduced me to the staff. Then I was on my own to figure out how to serve this unique population.
I had some wonderful, AOSW-member guides at pivotal points in my first few years, Ginny Vaitones and Kerry Irish in particular. At first, I was terrified coming to work. I knew, however, that I needed this change in my career. I knew that I needed to do something different in the social work world. And this was an opportunity for me to create something new.
At the time I was hired, I had no children of my own but hoped to in the future. In the six and a half years that I had this position, I gave birth to three babies—the psychosocial services program at my hospital and two wonderful children. Last fall, I found myself preparing to leave that very first baby. This first child of mine was ready to fly a bit on her own, to be guided by someone other than me, to continue to grow. As I prepared for my departure and handing my “child” over to my team, I found myself feeling a bit territorial and protective. I thought to myself, “What do you mean they haven't posted my position yet? Who's going to do this work? I’d like to interview candidates! This isn't what I envisioned.” I struggled with feelings of ownership and attachment and was uncomfortable with them. I rationalized that it should be easier to leave, but I kept coming back to the fact that all the work I had done had been in the service of my patients and the staff over the years, and I was proud of that, and I desperately wanted this “baby” to be taken care of.
After reading my letter of resignation, several people remarked to me that the tone of it sounded sad. They were right. I did feel sad about leaving this “child” of mine. Handing over the work I’d created, saying goodbye to patients and staff with whom I’d worked for years felt like a loss. A loss that included my role as a social worker, which I had really grown into. Oncology social work had helped me evolve as a clinician and changed me in ways I could never have imagined. I was sad to leave all of that behind.
But what helps me make this leap is my reverence for the process of change, and what my patients have taught me about working with it. Change is inevitable, sometimes self-initiated, sometimes not. Sometimes welcomed, sometimes not. Babies grow up, cancer comes and goes. I have learned I can resist, or I can bend, and that when I choose to acknowledge change and step back and observe, opportunities arise. Opportunity to bear witness to the suffering and transformation that cancer often brings to people. Opportunities to connect, to build relationships, to help, to listen, to explore my own joys and fears, and most importantly, to help my patients do the same.
Sometimes it is the letting go that makes these reflections possible.
I am not sure I would have paused in quite this way to write about my experience had I not decided to leave it for a while. I truly feel I have received such great gifts in personal growth through this role, and that these gifts will guide me as I explore what comes next.
For the immediate future, I will continue my journey as a caregiver of a different kind, and explore new and creative ways to maintain my connection to oncology social work. I am confident I will do so, and I look forward to doing that in part through AOSW.