Cancer COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured

Supporting patients through their cancer journey: Meet social worker Torey Belzberg

headshot of Torey

A person facing a cancer diagnosis has so much more to them than that diagnosis.

That’s how Torey Belzberg approaches the people she meets in her role as a social worker at the Odette Cancer Centre.

“I like to get to know our clients as people first, not as ‘cancer patients’,” she explains. “I ask questions about who they are, what brings them joy, and what their life is like outside of these walls. When we get to know people beyond their diagnosis, it helps foster connection and, I think, helps our patients feel supported.”

Torey says fostering those connections can be a bit more challenging these days, with so many appointments still taking place virtually. But she and her clients have been adapting.

In her role, Torey provides connections to resources like financial aid, transportation and homecare. She also provides emotional support to patients and their families.

“We might chat about processing a new diagnosis or about the challenges of facing treatment,” she explains. “It’s really about supporting the emotional well-being of people during the difficult time and meeting them where they are at along their cancer journey.”

Torey and a colleague inside Sunnybrook hospital

Torey (right) and a colleague inside the Odette Cancer Centre.

A cancer diagnosis during the COVID-19 pandemic can bring on added anxiety, Torey says. She tries to listen to her clients, validate their concerns and remind them of the steps being taken to keep them safe at Odette.

“Especially for new patients, they imagine the hospital is a busy bustling place. But the Odette Cancer Centre is its own space. It feels different, like its own quiet space within the hospital.”

As the pandemic continues, Torey says she tries to reduce her own stress by remembering some “pandemic silver linings.”

“As I reflect on it, the pandemic has enabled me to live more in the moment; to just watch my kids grow and really be present. Of course, I miss socializing and I don’t want to ever take that for granted. But there’s something comforting in having no pressure to go anywhere. It’s forced us to slow down.”

And, she adds, the pandemic has strengthened her connection to her colleagues at Odette.

“To me, our team has really exemplified the phrase ‘we are all in this together.’ We were a supportive group before COVID, and the shared experience of coping through the pandemic brought us closer as colleagues and friends. We are dedicated to caring for our patients and families, and to caring for each other.”

About the author

Alexis Dobranowski

Alexis Dobranowski is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.