Daisy Rizo '17, MSW '18 Combines Passion for Social Work with Helping Latinos Who Face Cancer Treatments

For Daisy Rizo ’17, MSW ’18 the light clicked on before she entered college, when she was working as a scheduler in the cancer center at Providence St. Vincent Hospital in Portland. She watched Spanish-speaking patients come in with anxiety about their diagnoses and courses of treatment, but nobody on staff could talk to them in depth.

Rizo recognized the importance of being a hospital-based social worker for cancer patients, especially those who craved a conversation in Spanish.

“That was one of my motivations, trying to figure out and address the barriers to care that Latinos have and see how I could help in this field,” she recalled.

So she applied to Pacific University in Forest Grove, where she spent her undergraduate years completing a bachelor of social work. Then she entered the accelerated Master of Social Work Program at Pacific’s Eugene Campus, where she was able to choose from two rare concentrations: Health & Wellness and Latino Families & Cultures.

“Being a Latina myself, I think it’s sort of my duty to address those gaps and be able to make a change,” she said.

Providence agreed, hiring her as a full-time social worker as soon as she completed her degree. Just months out of school, she now is helping cancer patients navigate the range of emotional, psychological and practical problems that confront them when they receive a cancer diagnosis.

For some patients, the biggest challenge might be insurance coverage. For others, it might be transportation. For many, it’s just talking through their fears. The range of needs is as broad or narrow as each patient wants to express.

“It’s much more than just cancer and getting treated,” she said. “There’s definitely a lot of other things that surface, whether it’s emotionally or just barriers to care, it’s a lack of insurance, if it’s a language barrier, sometimes movement, or even advanced care planning,” she said. “Walking through the patients about what is quality of life to them? What is end of life care like to them? And having to process that with them.”

Some wave off Rizo’s offers to meet, saying there’s no need because they have family members to lean on. But others will say, “I have literally nobody and would like just to speak with someone about what it feels like to have cancer,” she said.

While her work at Providence is not exclusively with Latino patients, they are at the heart of Rizo’s service as a social worker. It’s demanding but rewarding work, helping to ease the way of patients at one of the most difficult times of their lives.

Rizo credits her time at Pacific with preparing her for the challenges of supporting cancer patients. She said the master’s program, in particular, demanded a lot of work but “really helped me find my identity.”

Video by Robbie Bourland.

Nov. 29, 2018