‘We focus on hope’
Posted on 11 October 2019
Cancercare oncology social worker Emerentia Esterhuyse explains her role in a cancer patient’s journey.
The team at Panorama Cancercare, located near Mediclinic Panorama, adopts a holistic approach towards cancer treatment and involves the patient – and their family members – in all decisions. The dedicated oncologists are supported by a highly skilled team of radiation therapists, radiation laboratory technicians, medical physicists, medical officers, oncology social workers and oncology nursing sisters.
Oncology social worker Emerentia Esterhuyse explains her role in a cancer patient’s journey. ‘Hope is a dynamic element,’ she says. ‘Whether I encourage a newly diagnosed patient to focus on the hope of recovery – or help an advanced cancer patient focus on smaller hopes, such as “I hope my family visits today” – I am with them during every step of their cancer journey.’
As a specialist social worker, Esterhuyse doesn’t only deal with the practical aspects of cancer patient care (such as explaining where they can buy wigs and ensuring all resources are in place in cases of palliative care). She also sees patients (and their families) when they are in hospital receiving treatment and dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy.
Esterhuyse says it’s a big privilege to be part of such an intimate relationship with her patients during their treatment journey and beyond. ‘We cry, laugh, give hugs and hold hands,’ she says. ‘The emotions change as the journey progresses and I am still available when patients are in remission. It is a myth that life returns to the way it was before having the illness. Cancer changes you both physically and psychologically and I help patients adjust to their new normal. There are so many aspects to it. I help them cope with the physical aspects of self-image following hair loss, mastectomies or early menopause due to anti-hormone medication. There are also emotional and relationship changes to consider, along with the financial aspects of cancer treatments and potential changes in the workplace.’
Cancer patients in remission also need to cope with the fear of the illness returning. ‘I encourage them not to live cancer, but to live life,’ Esterhuyse says. ‘Yes, cancer can come back, but I empower patients to let cancer walk alongside them and not to let their illness define them.’
If the cancer patient is terminal and their journey entails palliative care, Esterhuyse ensures the family has adequate resources, home care and a palliative doctor. She is also equipped to relay necessary medical information to families in crisis and help loved ones deal with the bereavement process. ‘I have many conversations about death and dying with patients and their family members,’ she says. ‘It is such a privilege to be of assistance during this time.’