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.
Reflections on a Conference: My First AOSW Annual Conference
The day to leave for the 2016 AOSW Annual Conference finally arrived. It would be my first actual vacation since March 2012. I mean, I’ve had a couple of maternity leaves since then, but I don’t think those qualify as vacations. I was so eager to enjoy a relaxing six plus-hour plane ride to the East coast, followed by six full days of quiet without the family.
Of course, the reality of the situation was that, technically, I wasn’t on vacation. I was traveling to a work conference. However, I was still exceptionally excited about sleeping all night without being interrupted by a two- or three-year-old. That is a vacation in and of itself!
Aboard the plane, I settled in for a quiet ride. But you know how it is for social workers. As soon as you make eye contact, the person next to you wants to make small talk. It’s like moths to a flame or bees to honey. And once they find out what you do for a living, there’s no going back. They want to share their story. Or a story about a friend. Or about a co-worker. Or a parent. They tell you about their brush with cancer or their grandmother’s long battle with cancer. Despite feeling depleted when the flight started, I was now fully engaged in a supportive dialogue.
When the conversation dwindled, I pulled out a copy of Beginning Again, Tools for the Journey through Grief by Sherry Hendricks Martin. Feeling moderately relieved that I had empathy to spare, and mildly annoyed that I was “talking shop” on vacation, the person next to me said, “My mom’s hospice social worker gave me something like that to read….” And there you have it. Cancer connects us.
My arrival in Florida was without delays or travel hiccups. Walking into the Marriott Waterside Hotel, I was instantly impressed with the amount of reader boards, signs and poster boards related to the AOSW conference. The amount of time and energy spent on coordinating the signage alone, not to mention the little pocket schedule (genius!), was apparent. It felt as though AOSW was taking over the world, not just the hotel!
More than 400 oncology social workers filled the room on the first day. It was an amazing experience to be among such an amazing group of people! I felt proud to be in a room with such accomplished individuals with such compassionate souls. I was surrounded by people who shared similar morals, values and ethics. I was encircled by countless humanitarians and altruists who were driven by their passion to help others find their way throughout their cancer journey; people who were as knowledgeable and educated as they were kindhearted and considerate. Straightaway, I knew these were “my people.”
The conference was fully loaded. The days were long yet engaging. When I wasn’t sitting, listening and learning, I was networking, brainstorming and socializing. The presentations I attended were validating, empowering and energizing.
I was exceptionally fired up after attending “Looking Beyond Age: One Center’s Approach to Improving Care for Older Adults With Cancer” presented by Lora Rhodes, Gregory Garber and Alison Petok. Working with older adults is a passion of mine and, given that my institution has been granted funds to develop a geriatric oncology program, I found myself taking copious notes and asking further implementation questions following the presentation. When I left this session, I immediately texted my program supervisors back home and warned them that my enthusiasm for our Geri Onc program was stronger than ever!
I attended the preconference session on “Navigating Cancer: Work & Insurance.” This training was extremely informative and helpful. I am so glad I took the extra day to attend. In the months following the conference, I’ve utilized my slides, pamphlets and booklets from the presentation on multiple occasions.
“The Burden on Social Workers When Patients and Families Experience Financial Stress,” presented by Christine Callahan, captured what all of us oncology social workers feel on a daily basis. The pressure to find resources to help patients pay bills so they can keep their house, or afford insurance so they can receive treatment, is grueling and insurmountable at times. We feel pressure from our patients, our providers and ourselves to “fix” whatever needs “fixing.” And if we don’t, then we’ve failed. And if we do, then we’ve set ourselves up for higher expectations next time. To my relief, everyone sitting in the room with me that day was echoing everything Christine was presenting. It was like a support group for oncology social workers. I felt validated and understood. I walked away knowing that others experience what I experience on a daily basis, and also a little bit better about those times when I haven’t been able to provide a “fix.” There hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t thought about this presentation and said to myself, “It’s okay that I’m not a miracle worker and don’t have a magic wand,” despite what my co-workers hope from me. Thank you, Christine, for keeping perspective and reminding us all to do the same!
The AOSW Annual Conference renewed and re-energized me. It was a meaningful reminder of why I do what I do and why I love what I do. It was impactful and educational. Though I left the conference exhausted, I felt as though I could take on the world…. or at least the stranger sitting next to me on the plane.
Ironically, my seat assignment on the plane ride home was near two small children, whom I ogled over for a majority of the trip. I was astutely aware of how much I missed my boys and was secretly hoping they were going to need a little extra TLC in the middle of the night when I got home. Go figure!