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.
Integrative Oncology SIG: What an Exciting Time to be an Oncology Social Worker!
What does that have to do with Integrative Oncology? Traditionally, oncology social workers have worked individually with patients and families to provide counseling and referrals to community resources while helping to navigate the emotional and practical challenges of a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. We’ve facilitated a wide range of support groups. We’ve offered diagnoses-related groups and specialty groups. Some groups were successful—meaning they were healthy, viable groups that met the group members’ needs—while other groups were not sustainable due to dwindling attendance. We have always sought to provide tools for patients and families (whether in a group format or through one-on-one contact) to ease the stresses of a difficult time. As oncology social workers, we have found a home in this profession and know that whether it’s facilitating a group or teaching individual coping strategies, we are bringing the best we have to benefit our patients and families.
Support groups, which I’m passionate about, have been my “Go To” strategy for many years in terms of providing additional supportive options for patients. Now we have “integrative oncology,” which provides an exciting array of modalities that offers “something for everyone,” whether it’s an individual modality such as Reiki or a group format like Tai Chi. Why I believe this is a very exciting time to be an oncology social worker is that we can move beyond offering support groups and traditional methods. We now have the opportunity to introduce Integrative Therapies in our cancer centers, hospitals and clinics.
Our Cancer Center had few group options and no Integrative Therapies when I came six years ago. Our program has grown to include four diagnosis-specific groups as well as groups for caregivers and those with advanced disease. Our Integrative Therapies options include Tai Chi, Easy Chair Yoga, Wellness Workshops, Nutrition and Exercise groups, and Mindfulness Meditation, to name a few. We have discovered that these offerings bring new patients into the group experience and, interestingly, have increased or helped maintain attendance at our traditional monthly support groups. We are all aware that patients are pursuing complementary therapies outside of the treatment center. What we are discovering is that they appreciate participating in classes where others are also involved in the cancer journey and “get it.”
What I love about Integrative Oncology is that there is a preponderance of evidence that documents the benefits to cancer patients—including better treatment outcomes, stress reduction and improved quality of life. I find it very exciting every time we offer an Integrative Therapy to give a rationale as to why we are providing a particular therapy, what the benefit is and how a patient or caregiver can make applications in their daily lives. I get a great deal of satisfaction when I hear back from patients about how a specific class or new strategy is helping them make positive changes. I feel energized by seeing the impact our Integrative Therapies are having, knowing that not all modalities will be useful to everyone but that one will be beneficial to someone. I love that Integrative Oncology is a new tool I can put in my toolbox to share with patients and caregivers. I also admit that I benefit from using a number of the therapies in my personal life that have helped prevent burnout and compassion fatigue.
I am really pleased that this SIG’s name has been changed from “Complementary and Alternative Medicine” to “Integrative Oncology” because language does matter. What we want for our patients is not an “alternative” but an integrative approach whereby they can choose which therapy or therapies would be most beneficial to them in conjunction with standard cancer treatment.
If you go to the conference in Tampa, consider attending the Friday morning Integrative Oncology Panel Symposium where I will be sharing information on “Building an Integrative Medicine Program: Who, What and How” along with two others who will share about their integrative offerings. We also expect to have a stimulating SIG meeting Thursday evening when we will:
- Share success stories from those who are already implementing a program,
- Identify barriers and potential solutions to implementation, and
- Address questions about starting an Integrative Oncology program from the ground up.
If you are not attending the conference and you have any interest or curiosity about Integrative Oncology, I invite you to join the online SIG as we plan to hold conversations throughout the year in support of establishing and sustaining Integrative Oncology programs. My Integrative Oncology SIG Co-Chair is Cheryl Ann Hughes, LICSW, OSW-C, Clinical Social Worker at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital and Lombardi Cancer Center in Washington, DC. We both look forward to hearing from everyone throughout the country and beyond as we learn from each other and work toward implementing innovative programs for our patients.