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Mary Strauss, LCSW

Helping a patient find their own strength and resilience when they have been through adversity is one of the challenges oncology social workers like Mary Strauss find so rewarding.

“When you see a patient begin to recognize their own inner strength and open up to the support and resources we have to offer, it is extremely fulfilling as a social worker,” says Mary. “They begin to exhale and accept that they are not alone in this challenge, and they learn it’s okay to focus on their health.”

Working with patients with hematological cancers, and patients with head and neck cancers, Mary talks with her patients when they are first diagnosed and throughout the treatment process. To determine the needs of each patient, she performs a psychosocial assessment, which helps guide her recommendations of resources, including information on housing, food resources, and grants. She also provides individual and family counseling, and she collaborates with colleagues who can offer nutritional counseling, integrative medicine, and spiritual care.

Joining one of the many support groups offered at Smilow Cancer Hospital is another coping strategy Mary likes to share with her patients. She leads three support groups including one for each of the specialties she works with (hematological cancers and head and neck cancers), and a third designed for cancer caregivers. With the onset of COVID, all support groups shifted from in-person meetings to Zoom and teleconference, and that transition has been a great success, providing more access to patients who had barriers with transportation, travel, or who were too sick to attend in person. With the caregivers’ group, there are even a few members who join in from a different state.

“It’s interesting to see how members help each other. They understand each other and bond with each other, and their feelings are normalized and validated. And as part of the emotional aspect of their cancer journey, they begin to feel strong again,” Mary explains.