Help navigating care network vital

Help navigating care network vital

Helen Jones devotes her time to providing social support for cancer patients.

Helen Jones devotes her time to providing social support for cancer patients.

Photo: Supplied

Social worker Helen Jones says one of the young patients she worked with left cats behind when she died. Jones liaised with a local organisation to rehouse the pets to honour the patient’s memory. The cats were the woman’s family, comfort and everything else that mattered to her after all, Jones says.

There was another time where Jones helped a homeless patient find accommodation. And a scenario where she supported a mother and her loved ones from cancer diagnosis through to the end of the women’s life.

One thing is for sure, in a job where Jones can see up to eight patients per day, the work is varied and her schedule is busy.

‘‘It’s everything from quite subtle work, like emotional support and sitting with people, to very practical issues.
‘‘But we do a lot of emotional support because of the nature of the crisis people are dealing with.’’ Jones, a senior social worker at cancer treatment centre Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, is part of a social work team that helps patients with counselling and practical matters like transport, legal, financial and immigration issues and access to community and government support.

Many patients she supports have complex needs and family dynamics that cancer diagnosis can wreak havoc with. They also deal with loss in the form of social interaction, physical function, self-image and identity.


Jones says social work’s deep foundation in social justice is pertinent in cancer care because cancer patients can encounter a lot of systemic injustice with matters such as income and housing.

‘‘That’s a really big thing for people wanting to be social workers,’’ says Jones. ‘‘It’s an ethical and philosophical orientation for social and systemic justice.’’ Jones’ first career was in primary school teaching (for about six years). She next spent a few decades in communications roles in financial services.

Before she switched to social work, however, she received her own cancer diagnosis. As she received cancer treatment, she undertook vocational guidance testing and started to fathom a career in social work.

After studying social work at Sydney University, she landed her first role as an orthopaedic social worker.

When she subsequently secured a social work job at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, it was a longstanding goal fulfilled.

Life in oncology social work is a mix of great news and terrible news, says Jones, but becoming a senior social worker was certainly the former.

‘‘We have students and a younger social worker and now I’m in that position where I can be that person to answer questions and provide that support,’’ she says. ‘‘Having students can make you realise how much you do know.’’