REVIEW: EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES

Death is inevitable, and since about 3000 BC, what we now know as cancer has existed. Today, cancer is behind only heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States. The statistics are frightening: about 50% of men and 33% of women will develop cancer during their lifetime. Since the incidence (new cases) of cancer increases with age, one can expect that the longer life is extended with modern medicine, the rates of cancer may remain high for the foreseeable future. Grimmer is the fact that despite the reduction in certain preventable types of cancer such as lung cancer, the rates of cancer continue to increase, not decrease. The word cancer was first used by the famous physician Hippocrates, who described tumors as carcinos or carcinoma. Cancer has been described in many different ways, but the most logical definition is to that cancer is the phenomenon when normal cells change and begin rapidly dividing, forming two cells from one. This rapid growth exceeds that of normal cells, owing to unrelenting growth of tumors and other forms of cancer. Even for physicians, understanding the causes of cancer can be complex and confusing. Unfortunately, we are likely at our infancy in understanding cancer. As a result, we have spent the past few centuries attempting radical treatments, with very modest success. Many scientists, clinicians, and other scholars have tried to enhance our understating of cancer. More challenging has been our attempts to convey these thoughts and theories to the public. Indeed, the public has faced cancer in their families and friends, with a dearth of knowledge about what causes cancer...

INTERVIEW: Louise Knight, Director of Patient and Family Services, JHH Oncology

CAC: Please describe your general roles as the Oncology Social Worker at JHH. Louise Knight: On the adult side of the Kimmel Cancer Center, the oncology social workers take care of the mental health of our patients and families, which is easier to refer to as psychosocial health. The social component can be related to community, financial, and insurance aspects. The other two categories are the spiritual and the practical. Our brochure includes all of the most important information about the type of support that we provide. We’re looking to provide those services to patients who have either self-identified or have recognized issues, problems, or needs. People are often very good about identifying a concrete or practical reason that would drive them to the office – that is typically how most people will self-identify. We identify categories on the brochure with simplistic, one-word phrasing that is at the appropriate adult reading level. As an example, people may come to talk about one of the categories in the brochure, such as a money or legal issue, as opposed to being able to readily articulate what it is that they need in their own terms. This is how patients will come to talk to a social worker on the outpatient team. We then might assess if there is an emotional or psychological issue going on within the patient or family. We may also further assess if there are spiritual needs, and can then refer to our highly skilled in-house chaplain or palliative medicine team. We become the assessor of what the patient’s needs are in addition to the item that the...