Cancer diagnosis? Meet your support team
Judi Pregot, a radiation oncology social worker, considers herself a detective.
“Our jobs often require quite a bit of research,” she said about her work supporting cancer patients at Cape Cod Healthcare’s Davenport-Mugar Cancer Center in Hyannis. “On any given day, a patient or family member may knock on our door with a problem that we have never heard previously. This is when we have to try and figure it out as expediently as possible.”
Pregot is one of two oncology social workers at the Davenport-Mugar Cancer Center and focuses on patients undergoing radiation therapy. Her colleague, Mary Sprout, is the medical social worker in Medical Oncology. Mary is focused on patients who receive chemotherapy. But the two often collaborate to get patients whatever support they need, and say their skills are complementary.
“I feel like our job, whether it’s radiation or medical oncology, is to get people through treatment. But for everybody, that looks different,” Sprout said. “It’s anything and everything that we can do to help people go through it in as graceful a manner as possible.”
Cancer can be terrifying, she said, so she considers part of her job is to allay patients' fears.
“I want to make treatment doable, because it is doable and they get through it,” she said. “They just don’t think they can at first.”
The list of support services the two social workers provide is as varied as their patients. One person might need transportation to treatment while another needs help with a mortgage payment or accessing benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). They work with the Cape Cod Healthcare Foundation as well as other organizations such as Elder Services of Cape Cod & the Islands, which helps with services like homemaker aides, and the Cape Wellness Collaborative, which offers nutritious meals and integrative therapies like massage. They can connect patients with support groups or financial aid. They even write letters to travel companies to get refunds for patients who have to cancel a trip because of treatment.
“Some people don’t need much; some people need everything you have. So, we’re happy to help,” Sprout said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added a whole new complication, particularly for services such as transportation, but there are some challenges that have always existed on Cape Cod.
“I think there’s a population here that’s hidden,” said Sprout. “There’s a whole population living paycheck to paycheck. And then you have the retirees..... The person who has the cancer is taking care of a frail spouse who has dementia. What are they going to do when they’re coming here for a three-hour infusion?”
Sometimes they ask to see a social worker; other times they are referred by a member of their medical team who notices challenges are disrupting treatment. There also is a new screening tool on Cape Cod Healthcare’s digital portal, MyChart, that refers patients to the social work department if they match certain criteria. Even if they don’t need something specific immediately, patients and family members should make it a point to connect with the social workers, Pregot said.
“At least, they’ll be comfortable if something does come up while going through treatment that they can knock on the door, just poke their head in and say, ‘Hi, can I talk to you for a second,’” she said.
Both women have experience in hospice care and find that helps them guide all patients through difficult and confusing times. They love their work.
“I feel like I feed my soul when I come here,” Pregot said. “I always say when I drive to work every day, may I just help one person overcome something in their life. I’m very grateful for my job.”
Sprout described it as “beautiful work.”
“It’s just so gratifying because, let’s face it, it could be any of us -- our parents, our sisters, brothers, our kids, God forbid,” she said. “And, it’s nice to do it in a small community where we actually do know some of the people and can help people we know, as well as others in our community.”