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Fox Chase Cancer Center Information

Patient and Family Support

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 What can I expect from Fox Chase Cancer Center

The Department of Social Work Services is available to any patient or family member who needs our services. You can receive these services at the beginning of your diagnosis or at any point along the way. The advantage of getting help in the facility where you are being treated is that it saves you the energy it takes to be going to multiple places to get help. It also assures you that the professionals you will be dealing with are specialists in oncology and how it affects patients and their loved ones.

Of course, you can also seek help from professionals in the community who may be closer to your home or possibly where you have gotten help in the past. You can also find help from support groups in your community, telephone services, and through the Internet.

The Department of Social Work Services is staffed by oncology social workers that have a master's degree and often have additional training in oncology. The field of social work is very broad with people working in child welfare, medical and psychiatric hospitals, family service agencies, schools, mental health agencies and as private counselors. Fox Chase understands that dealing with cancer is more than blood tests and medical appointments. It also includes dealing with the worries and fears that are a natural part of being diagnosed with a serious illness.

At Fox Chase, there are 10 oncology social workers available to you and your family. Social workers are assigned to particular diagnoses or groups of diseases and become specialists in the problems of that particular diagnosis. For instance, a young woman with breast cancer will face different challenges than an older man with prostate cancer. You can expect that the social worker on your treatment team knows about the problems that come up with your particular diagnosis.

Fox Chase also has a psychiatrist on staff. Referrals to her can be arranged through your doctor, social worker or you can refer yourself be calling 215-728-3940. We can also help you find a psychiatrist experienced with cancer in your own community.

 How Will I Know if my family or I need Support Services?

Your feelings about what is happening to you may be a useful yardstick to use in figuring out how you are doing emotionally. In the beginning of a cancer experience, most patients go through a period of turmoil, and describe feelings of anxiety, sadness, and fear about the future. You may have questions about why this has happened to you, the meaning of life in relation to your illness, your relationship to God, along with worries about your job, finances, insurance or other practical matters. Gradually, as you move through the first stages of treatment, you will be dealing with these feelings and concerns and figuring out how to begin addressing them. If you have close relationships with other family members or friends, they will play a part in helping you figure out how to manage the experience. If these concerns are not addressed or you find yourself feeling very sad or preoccupied much of the time or unable to make decisions, it may help to talk with us. Your goal will be to gradually feel more in control of the situation and able to manage yours and your family's worries. Chronic feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and fear will deprive you of the energy to cope with your cancer. The advantage in talking with a professional can be to find quicker solutions to the problems you are worried about rather than struggling on alone.Top

 Why would people be reluctant to seek help with emotional or family problems?

One of the important concerns for people needing support services is how they feel about asking for help. People somehow have the idea that they should know how to handle every problem that comes up, even though they have never experienced a crisis like cancer. Sometimes, people see needing help with a problem as a sign of weakness. This is not true - in fact asking for help can be a sign of strength. There is no way you can be expected to know all there is to know about coping with cancer until you have had experience with the disease. Think about what it would take to play the piano - most of us would find a piano teacher. Athletes usually get a coach in order to be really competitive. Learning about what you might expect from yourself and other family members can help you to solve problems quicker than trying to solve them alone.

There are other reasons to ask for help early. During periods of active treatment, you may feel tired and overwhelmed with all there is to cope with physically. In addition to your physical needs, family members will have their own reactions and worries that you will need to respond to. This takes energy and you will need to protect yours as much as possible to deal with all that is happening. If family problems are worrying you, it may be harder for you to feel in charge of the situation. The Fox Chase staff wants to help families maintain a reasonable "quality of life" in the face of cancer treatment. This means making good choices about managing the illness, holding on to your hope for the future, and taking charge of the situation. What you don't want to have happen is to feel victimized by the disease or feel that the disease has taken over your life. You will always have choices about how to feel and think about the situation.

 What kind of support services should I consider?

Support services for people with cancer are usually available as individual counseling, family counseling, support groups, complementary/alternative treatments and even on the telephone or Internet. Making a decision about what support services might be helpful depends on a number of things, such as what services are available from your hospital or community, the cost or location of these services and what kind of insurance coverage you have. Support services in the hospital where you are being treated are usually free while community agencies or private counselors typically charge a fee. Agencies sometimes have a sliding scale meaning the charge is based on your income. In some communities, there are organizations like the "Wellness Community" or "Gilda's Club" that offer free support services to cancer patients and their families.

You may feel that you are doing fine emotionally but have worries about how to get to the hospital, concerns about your insurance, where to buy a wig or other prosthesis or what to tell your employer. We can help with these kinds of practical problems also. As we have said before, it's easier to get this kind of information from people who know about the resources available to you than to use up your valuable energy finding them yourself.Top

 What about support services and confidentiality?

As all services are confidential, you may want to talk to your social worker about what will be written in your medical record. The treatment team cares about how you are dealing with the cancer and whatever else is going on which will help you cope or might make it more difficult.

The exception to this is when someone is suicidal as the counselor has a legal and moral obligation to try and protect that person. In that kind of situation, the social worker would explain to the patient that they must share that information with their doctor so that we can help the patient get relief from such a terrible burden. Also if medications are suggested to help people get over the rough spots, the doctor needs to know about that so that these drugs are compatible with other medications you are taking. The next sections discuss other kinds of counseling that may be helpful to you and to the people you care about.  Top

 Suppose my family doesn't think I need this kind of help?

If you decide that you would like to try meeting with an oncology social worker, you will probably find yourself talking this over with the important people in your life. Hopefully, those people will be supportive of the idea but sometimes patients are surprised to discover that this may not be so. If you are married or in a long-term relationship, your partner may be worried that your desire to get help means there is something missing in your relationship together. If you are a young adult still living at home, your parents may feel they have failed in some way. Or it may be that your family wants to be included and you would prefer to sort things out for yourself. These situations can be very stressful, as the decision to try counseling is not an easy one. People have a hard time with the notion that they can't easily solve any problem that comes along. While this reaction is understandable, it's not necessarily logical or helpful. No one questions the fact that we are not all auto mechanics and can't take a motor apart to solve a car problem. The same applies in asking for help. The point is that there are many different support services available. If one isn't right for you, chances are something else will be. If you see a counselor, we suggest that you give it two or three sessions to decide if it's helpful.Top

 Will my insurance pay for counseling services?

At Fox Chase, oncology social work services are free and available as part of your comprehensive treatment plan so insurance is not a worry. If you are seeking services in your home community, you will need to learn what your policy covers for mental health services. Many health plans have some coverage available for counseling but often, this is more limited than it is for medical services. Most people have no idea what their insurance covers for support services until they develop a serious illness. Legislation is being considered to achieve mental health "parity" meaning an appreciation that mental health coverage is as important as coverage for physical illness. However, this is not universally accepted by the insurance industry so you may find that your coverage is inadequate for your needs. Some policies only pay for a limited number of sessions or if it is a managed care policy, it may limit your choices about whom you can see. Your insurance may have "contracts" with certain mental health providers, but not with others.