20 March 2018
Today, in celebration of World Social Work Day, Joanna Lill and Michelle Ruchin—social workers at Cancer Council SA Lodges—share their perspective about their role and the stories of the people they meet.
Many people ask us accommodation social workers, “what do you do?” and to me, the more pertinent question might be, “what is it you don’t do?”.
Social workers support people to enhance their wellbeing and social functioning—particularly when they are experiencing challenge. When we apply this to our role at Cancer Council SA, its means often assisting with practical issues, such as accessing required services, providing information, completing forms, and advocacy. We also help with emotional, psychological and spiritual issues often associated with cancer treatment—for example, talking through some of the discomfort and how to overcome it, dealing with transitions and decision-making, navigating cultural issues, and communicating with family members and friends.
We work with all guests, which may include patients, families and caregivers, to deal with the experience of facing cancer. There is no such thing as an ‘average day’ in our role. Every day is different and we never know what our day will bring. We might be assisting people with Centrelink claims, finding a wig, arranging childcare, advocating for fee reductions/waivers, organising legal services, providing bereavement support and grief counselling, or just sitting with someone and bear witness to their cancer experience.
Ultimately, our role is part of making the guests’ Lodge stay as comfortable as possible during a very difficult time—reducing the headaches and heartaches often experienced.
Being in Adelaide and away from their familiar environment for cancer treatment can be a very challenging experience. Having a diagnosis of cancer is difficult enough let alone when you then have to travel hundreds of kilometres from home to undergo treatment. Having the Lodges to come home to alleviates some of that stress knowing that you have somewhere to stay for the duration which can be months at a time. Guests knowing that they aren’t alone when they get to Adelaide, knowing there are social workers onsite, to turn to for support and assistance whilst staying in Adelaide reduces the stress of our rural patients.
The biggest reward is the privilege of walking beside someone as they navigate their way through treatment and beyond. People generously let us in when they are experiencing incredible challenge and place their trust in us. Working with people experiencing a cancer diagnosis reminds us to focus on what’s important in life.
When we tell friends and family what we do, the most common reaction is “oh, that must be so depressing!” when in fact it is the complete opposite. We are able to help people at one of the most significant times in their lives and not only help them through it, but make sense of what it means to them and the important people in their lives. Over and over again, we get to have witness the capacity of the human spirit.
We encourage anyone who stays in the Lodges in the future to come and chat to us—our door is always open. We will briefly introduce ourselves and our services to new guests, but if you have any urgent questions or concerns, it’s a good idea to come straight to us when you arrive. Whether it’s one meeting or more, a quick chat or a series of issues you’d like to discuss, we can help. We have a wealth of knowledge gained from working with people living with cancer and have a deep commitment to support country patients who are experiencing a cancer diagnosis.
Social work is just one of the many services offered at Cancer Council SA Lodges, which provide 30,522 nights of accommodation to guests every year. If you, or someone you know, would like to talk to a Cancer Council nurse about the emotional, practical and psychological support services available to you, please call 13 11 20.
Joanna Lill and Michelle Ruchin
Cancer Council SA