Living Well Despite Cancer with Win Boerckel

Last Editorial Review: 10/23/2003

By Win Boerckel
WebMD Live Events Transcript

Cancer can take quite an emotional toll on the patient and their loved ones. Join Win Boerckel, CSW for a discussion about the counseling and emotional support patients and loved ones need during their battle with cancer.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Good evening all! Please welcome Win Boerckel, CSW. 

Boerckel serves as prostate cancer program coordinator for Cancer Care of Long Island, overseeing the office's three prostate cancer support groups and providing individual counseling to prostate cancer patients and their families. He also leads support groups for lung cancer patients and on bereavement at the organization's Woodbury, N.Y. office.

Moderator: Welcome Mr. Boerckel.

Boerckel: Thank you. I'm delighted to be here.

Moderator: Can you begin by telling us a little about Cancer Care?

Boerckel: Cancer Care has been in existence for over 54 years serving the needs of cancer patients and their families. Currently, we serve a national client base through our website (, our national counseling line (1 800 813 HOPE), and our email. We serve our clients with information and referral, counseling, and limited financial assistance. We have over 45 licensed oncology social workers on staff to counsel our clients.

Moderator: How important are social workers to a cancer patient's treatment?

Boerckel: We believe that when a person is dealing with cancer, that it needs to be treated both medically and emotionally. Your physician handles the medical part, and we feel that the oncology social worker is best qualified to assist patients and family with the emotional coping aspects of the disease.

mold28_WebMD: How do you get brought in on a treatment team? A referral?

Boerckel: In an inpatient setting, the oncology social worker is normally already part of a cancer patient's treatment team. If you are dealing with the disease outside a cancer center, then you will probably have to seek out an agency like Cancer Care for those services. We often speak with patients or family over our counseling line and provide them with referrals to these services throughout the country.

Moderator: What is the most common concern of cancer patients that you see?

Boerckel: I would venture to say that treatment options would be the most common. Often patients feel that they are unable to get enough information on proposed treatment for their disease. Rather than provide information that is really the MD's province, we work with patients to help them establish more useful communications with their physicians.

mold28_WebMD: How closely do you work with other members of the treatment team?

Boerckel: Cancer Care is not affiliated with any medical center, so we do not usually work with a treatment team.

Moderator: Are there any special considerations for cancer patients in the workplace?

Boerckel: Yes, there are, especially in the power of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ADA provides really excellent protection for the cancer patient who chooses to remain or return to the workplace. Similarly, the Family Medical Leave Act facilitates the caregiver's need to help the patient. If you are having workplace problems, I would encourage you to contact the Cancer Care Counseling Line (1 800 813 HOPE) and speak with one of our workers on the specific problems you are facing.

Moderator: What rights do cancer patients need to be aware of?

Boerckel: As a person with a disability, you have the right to have your employer make reasonable accommodation to have you remain or return to the workplace. Reasonable accommodation includes such factors as changed tours of duty to accommodate treatment schedules; reconfiguration of tasks to accommodate changes in abilities; and the right to grievance and to report perceived failure on the employer's part to the EEOC.

wabe_grb_WebMD: I have been curious to try art therapy or music therapy. Do you have any experience with those?

Boerckel: As a primary or adjuvant treatment? While I have no personal experience with these therapies, a number of my clients have found them very helpful in that it gives them a sense of connection and creative control in a world that has become very difficult to control. We do offer workshops in our east coast offices that introduce patients to these modalities.

Moderator: Do the majority of cancer centers have certified social workers?

Boerckel: Yes, they do. Cancer centers do recognize the value of the worker to patient comfort. Smaller local hospitals that do not have cancer centers may not have certified social workers, but will have case managers who assist patients primarily with discharge planning.

Moderator: When is the first contact with a social worker for most cancer patients?

Boerckel: In the inpatient setting, the social worker is usually expected to make contact with the patient or family member within 24 hours of the patient's admission. In Cancer Care's case, we usually are contacted by patient or family soon after the diagnosis has been confirmed.

wabe_grb_WebMD: Do most major health plans cover social worker visits?

Boerckel: It depends on the plan. Some will cover a limited number of visits similar to mental health benefits. There is a move to increase the latter to parity with medical health benefits. All of Cancer Care's services are available free of charge, and a number of other organizations such as the Wellness Community are similar.

Moderator: Can you explain a social worker's journey with the patient step by step? What can a patient expect and not expect?

Boerckel: We find that our workers start with the patient/family around the time of diagnosis. The worker usually then assists the patient in clarifying their treatment options and the decision-making involved in choosing the most appropriate treatment. The worker can be very helpful during the treatment phase as chemotherapy /radiation therapy can be uncomfortable and prolonged. The worker also serves a valuable role for the patient who achieves remission and feels a sense of vulnerability when the protective umbrella of treatment is no longer necessary. It's encouraging that we are helping more and more patients cope with the issues of survivorship.

Moderator: What are some of the main survivor issues?

Boerckel: An overwhelming anxiety that the disease will recur that can immobilize the recovered patient; a fear that without the chemo or radiation, the disease will return overnight.

Moderator: Do children have the same issues?

Boerckel: I've not worked with children, but our children's cancer workers tell me that children's issues are often more complex because they have a significantly different worldview than adults.

mold28_WebMD: Do you do work with family members also?

Boerckel: Yes, family members make up a large part of each worker's caseload.

Moderator: Let's speak about bereavement. What does the social worker do in that situation?

Boerckel: Cancer Care workers provide individual and group bereavement services to family members who have lost someone to cancer. The worker helps validate the bereaved person's feelings and works with them to help them confront the reality of their loss, the changes it has thrust upon their lives, and to find within each person the means to complete their grief journey.

Moderator: Well, our time is about up. Do you have any parting comments?

Boerckel: It certainly went quickly. I hope that anyone who has found out about Cancer Care this evening will visit our website (, call our counseling line (1 800 813 HOPE), or email us so that we can provide whatever help they or their family need in the struggle with this disease.

Moderator: Thank you. That was great! Our guest has been Win Boerckel, CSW. Boerckel serves as prostate cancer program coordinator for Cancer Care of Long Island, overseeing the office's three prostate cancer support groups and providing individual counseling to prostate cancer patients and their families. He also leads support groups for lung cancer patients and on bereavement at the organization's Woodbury, N.Y. office.

Good evening.

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