CancerCare Social Worker, Lauren Chatalian, Discusses Her Work with People Living With Cancer
March is Social Work Month! This is Part V of our “Celebrating Social Workers” Blog Series. CancerCare’s Social Worker, Lauren Chatalian, LMSW, shares her thoughts on the importance of oncology social workers for people living with cancer.
What inspired you to become an oncology social worker?
I knew I always wanted to help people in some way. Through personal experiences with children and chronic illness, I realized that many people have limited supports systems. I have observed children fearful of procedures or treatments, and in those moments, I’ve wanted to be there to provide comfort and offer guidance. I’ve also witnessed that being the one diagnosed also comes with its own set of challenges that are extremely overwhelming. I have become passionate about sharing what I have learned from others and from my personal experience.
Were you initially interested in oncology social work, or was that something that came later?
While at the Yale New Haven Children's Hospital, I met children living with cancer and found these patients to be incredibly inspirational, especially their outlook on life. Speaking to their parents was also eye-opening and being a part of their support team was really rewarding. I originally wanted to work in a hospital environment but then I found CancerCare while in graduate school.
I originally started full-time at Boston University then decided to move to New York. When I transferred, I was eventually connected with CancerCare during my second field placement/internship as a graduate student, which was an unbelievable intern experience. Every day I learned something new and things that I can apply and continue to apply throughout my career. Going from an intern to a full-time social worker was still a change, but I became more and more prepared for it as I became more independent throughout my internship. I interned from January to August of 2017, and then began full-time in September 2017. It was perfect.
What should someone living with cancer know about oncology social workers and their role in cancer care?
Oncology social workers specialize in helping people living with cancer and families cope with the many obstacles a cancer diagnosis can present. We may help reduce some of the stressors that can make a cancer diagnosis that much more overwhelming. We’re here to listen and offer what we can to each individual. Everyone is different and it is important to be able to adapt to each client and situation.
What kind of supportive services do you provide to people living with cancer?
During one-on-one counseling, individuals express a range of concerns that can include their physical appearance, communicating with their doctor, treatment side effects, talking to their employer about their diagnosis and generally adjusting to a “new normal.” As a social worker, I provide emotional support, resources and coping skills.
I also find it’s important to work with individuals to help them know their limit. If they’re experiencing pain or treatment side effects, they need to talk to their doctor. If they’re feeling overwhelmed, there are relaxation techniques that may help. If they are not ready to share their diagnosis, that’s ok because it’s so personal.
Why is it important to offer supportive services to people living with cancer?
No matter how strong you are, it is hard. It is hard to be diagnosed or to have a loved one who has been diagnosed. Your life is turned upside down. Having an outlet or additional support can make a huge difference. It is ok to ask for help and it is ok to lean on someone else. You don’t need to do this on your own.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your job?
Hearing that I, or CancerCare, made a difference in someone’s life is really rewarding. It’s hearing the genuine gratefulness from people that are going through such a challenging time. To be able to observe a client’s progress throughout each session, to see changes that are made. Honestly, to just be there and listen to someone is rewarding in itself. To be connected with other social workers with similar values, similar vision is really gratifying. It’s incredible to be a part of something important every day.
What is one goal you have for 2018?
In 2018, my goal is to touch up on my Spanish. This will help me reach out to a wider population and communicate with some of our Spanish callers! I also want to utilize the many programs that are offered to social workers. It is wonderful that CancerCare encourages social workers to continue their education so we stay up-to-date with our skills and knowledge. I also want to help expand CancerCare’s Kids Team and become more involved with children and families.
Learn more about CancerCare’s services.