Erika Parker is a social worker at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA who works closely with Bringing Hope Home. Throughout the past eight years, Erika has referred 58 local families with cancer to our Light of Hope Family Grant Program and holiday Adopt-A-Family Program. Erika took some time to share a bit about herself, the work she does, and her experience working with Bringing Hope Home

When asked to share a bit about herself and her approach to her job, Erika Parker explains that she always attempts to “meet people where they’re at.” Considering that Erika’s career as a social worker spans over ten years, Erika’s willingness to come alongside and listen to her patients has clearly contributed to her success in her field. Despite the challenges presented by the inherent nature of her position working in inpatient oncology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Erika says, “The opportunities as a social worker to impact the lives of others are significant and fulfilling.”

However, Erika’s insightful and empathetic view of her work does not negate the intensity of working in an inpatient environment. On a daily basis, Erika helps families navigate through the pains of crises, frustrations of insurance policies, and intricacies of discharge planning. Though she primarily works with blood cancer patients, each of Erika’s cases presents a unique set of needs. While one situation may involve a patient and their loved ones experiencing the shock and grief that comes with a cancer diagnosis, another family may desperately need resources to help them pay rent for the month. Throughout all of these situations, Erika says she “always offers a listening ear” as her patients undergo diverse physical, emotional, and financial struggles.

For Erika, the support she offers extends beyond credentials and connections. Her ability to understand the perspective of the families with which she works stems from the fact that she has experienced life from their position. Due to her mother’s diagnosis, Erika became personally acquainted with the pains of cancer as a teenager. At that young age, Erika first encountered the concept of caregiving, which she now practices in her everyday job. She feels that her personal circumstances allow her to feel equipped when facing the challenges of her position.

Although she feels that her life experiences prepared her for the stressors of her work environment, Erika emphasizes the importance of practicing positive thinking to encourage her throughout her day. “I remind myself that there are lots of people doing well,” Erika shares. Considering the mental impact of working with sick individuals and witnessing difficult situations, Erika attributes her ability to cope to the outlet of collaboration and motivation that she finds in her team. Social workers both rely upon and create relationships between staff, patients, and resource providers. These systems of support allow Erika to better address the needs of the patients with which she works.

For a large majority of her career, Erika has incorporated Bringing Hope Home into the network of support that she offers to her patients. Her teamwork with Bringing Hope Home began when the organization was called the Great Guys Group. About a decade after she first heard of the Great Guys Group from an older colleague, Erika’s contributions to the Bringing Hope Home Family now include 58 families, a long standing partnership, and a reliable bridge between BHH and families in need. For BHH, the work Erika does everyday provides our organization with invaluable opportunities to connect with the incredible families that we serve through our programs.

Even throughout a global pandemic, Erika remains an asset to both her patients and to the BHH Family. Though the COVID-19 pandemic initially eliminated Erika’s ability to directly interact with her team and her patients, she continued to provide support and resources during a distinctly vulnerable time for cancer patients. Despite the hardships of assisting these families from a distance, Erika noted the fact that many of the families with which she works were already required to implement precautions such as masking and distancing due to their conditions. In a certain way, the pandemic provided the rest of the world with a minor glimpse into the daily realities of some cancer patients.

As she returns to work and to her daily interactions with patients, Erika feels both a sense of relief and a sense of concern. Despite her excitement to speak face-to-face with families once again, she understands that the pandemic has significantly impacted many cancer patients by contributing to loss of employment, increased isolation, and decreased accessibility to assistance. Though her work feels perhaps more unpredictable than ever, Erika says, “I’m thankful for the consistency of knowing that HUP is guaranteed two Light of Hope Family Grants every month.” However, we recognize that the partnership between HUP and BHH would not exist without Erika’s contributions to both organizations. As BHH continues to seek out opportunities to bridge the gap for families impacted by cancer, the Bringing Hope Home Family remains always thankful for Erika’s ability to bridge the gap between our organization and patients in need.

Interview and article by BHH intern Isabella Pappano