Susan Hedlund has spent the past 30 years in health care as a social worker, and specializes in  cancer care. For the past two years, she has focused on developing  and overseeing the Cancer Survivorship Program at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. In her current role here as manager of Patient and Family Support Services, she helps people who have completed their cancer treatment figure out what’s next.

“Many people need help figuring out how to transition to life after treatment,” she says. “They feel anxious if they’re not going to see their cancer treatment team on a regular basis. Some even feel like the treatment team were the only ones who understood. The Survivorship Program provides an extra layer of support and helps survivors come up with a plan to stay healthy.” To deal with results of cancer and treatment takes support in the physical, emotional, social and spiritual realms, she explains.

The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s Survivorship Program offers a full range of specialties that those affected by cancer might find they need during diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Although the program is still being developed, Hedlund believes the process will happen like this: At the end of treatment at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, patients meet with a social worker and nurse practitioner and get a post-treatment care plan tailored just for them. For example, yoga and acupuncture can treat pain. Or speech therapy and neurology support can address “chemo brain.”

Susan also teaches end of life care and communications skills at Portland State University and OHSU. A past president of the Association of Oncology Social Workers, she still remains active in the organization. She also leads weekend retreats for cancer survivors, helping them work through their own strategies for the next part of their lives. “It’s better to come up with a specific strategy - instead of saying that you’ll exercise more, commit to going to yoga twice a week with a friend, for example.”

Susan finds her work incredibly rewarding, she says. “You get to see people take their lives back and do what they never thought was possible. After cancer, many people find that there’s a ‘new normal. Things are never the same again. We understand that. Our program is focused on your quality of life in this time of changing perspectives.”