Cancer Social Worker and Team Make Sure Patient Gets Help She Needs

Article Date: Nov 19, 2013

Michelle's daughters

When you're diagnosed with cancer, it's normal to be distressed. In fact, says four in 10 cancer patients have significant levels of distress and that can affect their physical progress. Because we care so much about our patients' outcomes, we treat not only their body but their mind and soul as well. Read Michelle's story to see how our social worker and others on the team were  able to help her—in many ways.

She found the lump by accident. Michelle Siedler was lying on her side when she felt the swelling and the mass in her breast. "I decided I really didn't like it," she said.

She'd had a breast cancer scare 10 years earlier that turned out to be nothing. But there was family history of breast cancer, so Siedler knew to follow up again. "You just kind of know something's wrong," she said. "My body said, ‘Go to the doctor!'"

She had a mammogram at Alegent Creighton Health Bergan Mercy Medical Center and was called back for more x-rays the same day. An ultrasound, a biopsy and a cancer diagnosis followed soon after.

Her diagnosis:  ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer.

The single mom of three already had a busy life. Her children were 18, 15 and 7 years old. Christmas was a week away. "After I was diagnosed, for the next two to three weeks, I kept thinking, ‘This is my last Christmas. This is the last time my youngest will wake me up on Christmas morning. This is my last Christmas brunch. This is my last Christmas at my sister's. This is my last everything."

Three weeks later, her surgeon performed a lumpectomy, a surgery in which only the tumor and some surrounding tissue are removed. "I was scared out of my mind," Siedler said. "I was more accepting but I was still freaking out about it."

Chemotherapy and radiation followed. The preschool teacher had to take six months off work. During that time, an Alegent Creighton Health Cancer Center nurse asked  Siedler  to fill out something called a "psychosocial distress screening" evaluation where she rated her "distress" on a scale of one to 10, much like a pain scale when a doctor asks how much pain a patient is in. The evaluation had her rate her practical concerns, such as financial problems or changes in appearance, as well as physical, emotional, family, social and spiritual concerns.

The evaluation gave Marchell Benes, a cancer social worker, a good idea of what help Siedler needed in addition to her physical treatment.

Because Siedler had no health insurance, Benes helped arrange financial assistance for her. Siedler signed up for Medicaid and was referred to the "Every Women Matters" program for further help. Benes also connected her with Project Pink'd, which paid her utility bills.

Julie Lobb, her cancer nurse navigator, stood by Siedler's side for support. "She was awesome," she said. "She checked up on me. She answered all my questions. She made my appointments."

Her biggest concern was her three children. Social worker Benes told her about counseling and support groups like Just for Kids and Teens Discussing Cancer. Siebler's youngest—a grade schooler—enrolled in Camp Keesem in Boone, Iowa for a fun week with other kids who had a parent battling cancer.

Siedler also visited the Image Recovery Center, where a clinical cosmetologist shaved her head when her hair started falling out. The hospital-based appearance enhancement program helped her with wig selection and with skin products for her cancer-related dryness.

The psychosocial tool helped the team take away some of her biggest stressors, Siedler said. "It helped me and my kids deal with what was going on."

Doctors recently told her they were confident her outcome will be good. "For a while I didn't know if I had tomorrow," she said. "But now I know I'm not alone. Life's too short. I'd rather live my life than just exist."

She signed up to walk a mile in the Susan Komen Race for the Cure with other survivors. "Life's not perfect by any means but I have my kids. I never wanted to be with my kids more."

The distress evaluation is another example of our comprehensive cancer care. For more information about the Alegent Creighton Cancer Centers, call 402-717-2273 or visit

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