|Jennifer Carrera, MSW, LCSW
Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center
Northwestern Memorial Hospital
How long have you been an oncology social worker?
Where do you currently work? What is your position? How long have you been there? Include prior oncology social work.
I currently work for the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, Northwestern University, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Lurie Children’s in Chicago. I was hired primarily to provide AYA programming and clinical care for patients 15-30 years old who were diagnosed with cancer but also to cofacilitate support groups for patients (and families) diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 18-39. My current title is AYA Clinical Oncology Navigator. I provide comprehensive biopsychosocial assessments and support for patients and families throughout treatment and survivorship. I have been here for one year.
Prior to this, I worked for Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, to provide clinical oncology social work and programming for adult patients and their families from 2002-2018. I initiated and co-facilitated a young adult support group and movement in San Antonio including an AYA conference (now in its 10th year) and a community event for AYAs, their families and oncology professionals who care for them.
Where did you earn your degrees?
I received my BSW at Colorado State University and my MSW at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams School of Social Work.
How long have you been a member of AOSW?
I have been a member in the past, then rejoined two years ago.
Have you attended an AOSW conference?
Other professional affiliations?
In the past I have been part of NASW as well as the Texas Society for Social Work Leadership.
In your role as an oncology social worker/clinician, what is one of your favorite resources to share with clients? Why?
I love to share the monthly young adult support group and connection resources such as Stupid Cancer, Imerman’s Angels and First Connection through LLS. There is nothing as therapeutic for young adults as meeting someone their age with similar experiences. Our organization is so large that they may not be aware it exists, but most are so happy once they participate. I am also thrilled to let them know of grants that may help offset costs!
In your experience with survivors, would you share a memorable story with us?
I am sure everyone in AOSW knows that once a patient completes active treatment, the psychosocial and medical care tend to diminish. This is a crucial time for patients when their brain catches up with their journey, and they begin to process their experience. They can be at risk for anxiety, depression, fear of recurrence, PTSD and nonadherence to follow-up care. I can be referred to see patients at any point in their trajectory: new diagnosis, during active treatment or post treatment. I stopped in to see a new-to-me patient who was present for a one year follow-up post treatment visit with her oncologist. On the surface, she seemed to be fine—no red flags raised by providers. She was cooperative and pleasant but quiet. I went over some things that some AYAs struggle with post treatment, attempting to normalize what might lie beneath. Within minutes of doing what we social workers do, she was tearful. When I elicited the reason behind her tears, she stated, “This is the first time I feel someone gets what I am going through.” She was referring to the misnomer of family, friends and provider expectations of cancer survivors who have completed treatment to be happy and grateful. To see her light turn on, to breathe a sigh of relief, to feel seen and heard is such a gift to me as a social worker. I feel privileged and grateful to do this work, especially with hard-to-reach patients or those who “fall under the radar” and would be missed otherwise. I think it is crucial to advocate for more oncology social workers as no one can screen a patient for psychosocial issues better than we do!
In that “little something more” section, what is one thing you might share with us about you personally, one that is outside of your work life?
Full circle moment: I lived in Chicago in the late ‘90s and survived cancer as an AYA. I moved away to Texas and just returned to Chicago last year. I have always wanted to find and thank my wonderful nurses (I wish I would have had an oncology social worker!). After eight rounds of chemo and one month of radiation, my oncologist stated I still had cancer and wanted to proceed with further chemo treatments. I went to Northwestern University for a second opinion and was told I was cancer free, that what was seen was scarring from radiation. Twenty years later, here I am, working with AYAs at this special place that spared me of further toxicity. To make the full circle moment even more special, I received a group email with a name I recognized on the list. It was my oncology nurse who just began working here! Now I get to thank her in person!
Anything more you’d like to tell us?
I would like to thank AOSW for all of their hard work, dedication and providing a forum for us to continue to collaborate, improve our skills, troubleshoot and advocate for the profession!