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.
Pearls of Wisdom: Founding Mothers of Social Work
Their Early Years in Oncology Social Work and Their Roles in the Beginning of AOSW
Noni started her career as a musician and worked in the Head Start program. Her social work career began at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in 1975, where she stayed until 1993 as the Director of Social Work. In 1984 Noni was voted the first president of AOSW (formerly NAOSW) and served in that role until 1988. To honor Noni, the Naomi Stearns National Conference Scholarship is given each year to one AOSW member to offset the cost of the conference fees.
Hester received the Oncology Social Worker of the Year Award in 1991 and was the president of AOSW in 1993-1994.
Both Noni and Hester were two of the first 20 charter members of AOSW in 1984. The conference that year was held in New York and was put on with the help of the American Cancer Society. Each member gave a $20 initial contribution.
Regarding clinical practice, both women commented that when they began their careers, it was the beginning of chemotherapy and subsequently there were no previously laid out frameworks or guidelines for social workers in the field of oncology.
What Do They Think About AOSW Now?
Besides the obvious size difference from the original 20 members, both women stated that AOSW is “the same now as it was then” in regard to the values, traditions and integrity of the Association. They remarked at how wonderful it has been through their careers to have friends all over the country.
Both Women Are Survivors of Breast Cancer. How Has This Impacted Their Work?
Noni and Hester started a Cancer Survivor Support Group at the 1994 AOSW Annual Conference in order to allow oncology social workers who had previously, or currently, had cancer themselves to establish a community of colleagues who were experiencing the dynamic of being both the patient and provider simultaneously. Hester adds, “I realized that our patients show us how to live without fear; they are ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” When working with patients during their own treatment, Hester stated that “the patients need to be first priority and my own a very distant second.”
What Are They Doing Now?
Noni is retired but continues to be connected to AOSW. She remains a steadfast pillar of oncology social work. Hester continues to work at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston as the Chief of Oncology Social Work. She blogs daily on the BIDMC’s blog titled “Living With Cancer.”
Their Advice to New Oncology Social Workers
Noni tells new oncology social workers not to feel they are alone in this work and encourages them to remember that there are “some things you can control and some you can’t; you have to learn to live with that ambiguity.” She adds, “As an oncology social worker, you can’t get all of your support from one source.”
Hester feels it is important to look for a chance to join something like AOSW to get your foot in the door and “to meet people who carry the same heart that you do.”
The Author’s Thoughts
What a pleasure it was to sit at the table with these two esteemed legacies of oncology social work. Not being new to social work but having joined the realms of oncology and AOSW recently, I feel honored and encouraged to hear from the women who have pioneered this profession that so many of us have come to hold dear.