To advance a social work model for working with patients with diagnoses of cancer in diverse global contexts, this paper draws from qualitative research with clients diagnosed with cancer, and their social workers, in Lithuania. As in many countries, Lithuanian social work is a new profession, finding its way to helping people through many life stressors in a unique cultural context. The threat cancer presents – of dying from a protracted and painful illness – requires social work strategies, especially because many countries lack Hospice supports. Key aspects of the findings are the life crisis that a diagnosis of cancer presents, with great fear, anguish, and shifts in personal identity. Clients and social workers describe physical and emotional suffering and alienation from others. While some aspects of clients’ suffering cannot be alleviated by social workers, alienation can be, so here we focus on that possibility. The data from clients and social workers are used to revise crisis intervention theories to suit this unique type of crisis, and an alternative concept of “accompaniment” is offered to capture how social workers can reduce alienation. Drawing from the work of Farmer, Watkins, and O’Donoghue, accompaniment is compatible with strengths-based and wholistic approaches to practice and is adaptable for those with any belief system.


social work with persons with cancer, accompaniment with persons with cancer, spiritual caring with persons with cancer

Author Bio(s)

Asta Kiaunyte is an Associate Professor at the Department of Social Work at University of Klaipeda, Lithuania, supervisor, consultant for professional relations, graduated at Munster Academy (Germany) and Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania, member of the Association of Professional Relations Consultants (Supervisors) of Lithuania, member of Association of National Organizations for Supervision in Europe (ANSE), and member of Academic Ethics Committee of Klaipeda University, Lithuania. Please direct correspondence to asta.kiaunyte@gmail.com.

Jonas Ruskus is a Professor at the Department of Social Work, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania, expert member, vice-chair, of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of the United Nations, chairperson of the Lithuanian National Commission for UNESCO, board member of Kaunas L'Arche Community and Lithuanian Centrer for Human Rights, and member of Lithuanian Association for Independent Living. Please direct correspondence to jonas.ruskus@gmail.com.

Roberta Telmentiene graduated with the Master of Religious Studies at Klaipeda University and graduated with the Bachelor of Social Work at Klaipeda University. She volunteers at St. Francis Oncology Centre in Klaipeda, Lithuania and Welfare Society for People with Intellectual Disability Viltis (Hope). Please direct correspondence to ro.telmentiene@gmail.com.

Katherine Tyson McCrea earned her B.A. and M.Div. degrees from Yale University, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration. A Fulbright Senior Specialist, she taught seminars for social workers from the U.S. and abroad in-person and through video-conference methods. She was awarded a doctorate honoris causa from Vytautus Magnus University in Kaunas Lithuania, for service to social services and education. Her numerous publications have focused on (1) improving services for disadvantaged persons, especially children and homeless adults, and (2) a practitioner-relevant philosophy of research for the social and behavioral sciences. Since 2006 she has been the Principal Investigator for the participatory-action–based Empowering Counseling Program (ECP), which provides clinical social work and after-school services (see https://empowercounselprog.wixsite.com/ecp-luc) for disadvantaged youth in Chicago’s high-poverty, high-crime communities. Please direct correspondence to ktyson@luc.edu.


We are deeply appreciative of the Little Brothers of St Francis, social workers and volunteers for their devotion when building the community and their precious support to persons with cancer. We are grateful to the research participants for their given life experiences, may they give insight to others. We appreciate the advice of Ms. Siobahn O’Donoghue, M.S.W., and the editing and comments of Ms. Emily Love, M.S.W., and Ms. Carly Mitchell.

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