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Building Your Professional Support Team


Knowledge image

Most cancer patients have a treatment team of health providers who work together to help them. In addition to doctors and nurses, this team may include social workers, pharmacists, dietitians, and other people in health care. Chances are that you will never see all these people at the same time. In fact, there may be health providers on your team who you never meet.


Pharmacists not only fill prescriptions but also can teach you about the drugs you are taking. They can help you by:

  • talking with you about how your drugs work
  • telling you how often to take your drugs
  • teaching you about side effects and how to deal with them
  • warning you about the danger of mixing drugs together
  • letting you know about foods you shouldn't eat or things you shouldn't do, like being in the sun for too long


People with cancer often have trouble eating or digesting food. Eating problems can be a side effect from cancer drugs or treatments. They can also happen when people are so upset that they lose their appetite and don't feel like eating.

Dietitians can help by teaching you about foods that are healthy, taste good, and are easy to eat. They can also suggest ways to make eating easier, such as using plastic forks or spoons so food doesn't taste like metal when you're having chemo. Ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a dietitian who knows about the special needs of cancer patients.

Most cancer patients have a treatment team of health providers who work together to help them.

Social Workers

Social workers assist patients and families with meeting their daily needs such as:

  • talking about your cancer with your family and other loved ones
  • dealing with your feelings such as depression, sadness, or grief
  • problem-solving and coping with stress
  • finding support groups near where you live
  • dealing with money matters, like paying the bills
  • talking about your cancer or other work issues with your boss
  • filling out paperwork, such as advance directives or living wills
  • learning about health insurance, such as what your policy covers and what it does not
  • finding rides to the hospital, clinic, or doctor's office
  • setting up visits from home health nurses

Patient Educators

Patient or health educators can help you learn more about your cancer. They can find information that fits your needs. Patient educators are also experts in explaining things that may be hard to understand. Many hospitals and treatment centers have resource centers run by health educators. These centers contain books, videos, computers, and other tools to help you and your family. These tools can help you understand your type of cancer, your treatment choices, side effects, and tips for living with and beyond your cancer. Ask your doctor or nurse about talking to a patient educator.


Most people are very upset when they face a serious illness such as cancer. Psychologists can help by talking with you and your family about your worries. They can not only help you figure out what upsets you but also teach you ways to cope with these feelings and concerns.

Let your doctor or nurse know if you want to talk with a psychologist who is trained to help people with cancer. Many social workers can also fulfill this role.


Sometimes people with cancer are depressed or have other psychiatric (mental health) disorders. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe drugs for these disorders. They can also talk with you about your feelings and help you find the mental health services you need.

Let your doctor know if you feel like you need to meet with a psychiatrist.

Licensed Counselors and Other Mental Health Professionals

Licensed counselors, pastoral care professionals, spiritual leaders, nurse practitioners, and other mental health professionals also help people deal with their feelings, worries, and concerns. For instance, they can:

  • help you talk about feelings such as stress, depression, or grief
  • lead support groups and therapy sessions
  • act as a "go-between," such as with your child's school or your boss at work
  • refer you to other health providers and services near where you live

Talk with your doctor or contact your local cancer center to find mental health professionals near you.

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