For over 25 years, Kaori Osawa has been a medical social worker for breast cancer patients and their families. Being a cancer survivor herself, Ms Osawa shares her inspirational story of surviving breast cancer with Roche Diagram magazine how she uses her experience to inspire her patients to stay strong through their journey of recovery.
“At first, it felt like a dream, a really bad one. Stunned by the shocking report, I couldn’t believe my reality.”
Kaori Osawa, then 36, poignantly recalls the moment she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A cancer diagnosis affects people differently, but every cancer patient has one thing in common: At some point during their journey, they undoubtedly experience stress.
As a social care worker, Ms Osawa lends an ear to help alleviate some of that stress by enabling patients to focus on their treatment. While she has seen many patients and families go through the ordeal, Ms Osawa says she truly grasped its magnitude when she became ill herself.
Coping with cancer is exhausting and those diagnosed undergo a great deal of tension – from worrying about paying medical bills and not being able to work, to experiencing the unpleasant side effects of treatments. Ms Osawa says her role is to help cancer patients find resources that can provide them with relief and reassurance.
“I run a breast cancer support group twice a month where patients share their concerns, how they deal with side effects, and also talk about fun things like recent trips they made. This support group has helped many patients understand that they are not alone in their cancer journey.”
Although her job can be overwhelming at times, Ms Osawa calls it gratifying.
According to the World Health Organization,1 30-50% of cancers can be prevented through early detection and implementation of prevention-based diagnostic strategies.2 Having a multi-stakeholder and collaborative approach to cancer care helps develop new pathways to treatment.
With better diagnostic capabilities and referral mechanisms for personalised cancer diagnostics and cancer care, Ms Osawa feels timely diagnosis and detection will also improve. The counselor, now 52, says,
“In the early 90s, patients were not informed about their diagnosis or treatment plan; many suffered extreme side effects and lacked access to good medical care.”
Cancer takes away a lot from people. While patients find it empowering to describe their approach to illness as a battle, few have shown her that “beating” a disease can also be defeating.
“It divides the ailing into winners and losers – those who beat cancer and those whom cancer beats,” says Ms Osawa.
As a cancer survivor and social care worker, she thinks such words can often stand in the way of vulnerable emotions like fear and anxiety.
“More than fighting the illness, acceptance and support ease the journey. Every day is a reminder of how precious life is and that is what keeps me going.”
¹ World Health Organization. 2019. Cancer prevention fact sheet. Available at: https://www.who.int/cancer/prevention/en/
² Cancer, World Health Organization. 2018. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer