Social Worker Helps Patients Reframe Their Lives

Janet Hoyer, MSW, LCSW, facilitates the cancer support groups at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. As a social worker she helps patients recognize their strengths – emotionally, spiritually and physically.

One of Janet Hoyer’s favorite selfies is a close up of her smiling face. She calls it her “joy face.” She says it’s important to help patients find the joy in their lives, no matter where; and that’s what she is about.

Since Feb. 9, 2015 (she remembers the exact date) Hoyer has worked as an outpatient social worker for IU Health spending the majority of her days with oncology patients. One of her roles is as a facilitator for the “Living With Cancer” group, one of several groups that meet during the Cancer Support Group the first Monday of each month. This month’s meeting is September 10 due to the Labor Day holiday. The monthly cancer support group meets in the IU Health Simon Cancer Pavilion Atrium from 5-7:30 p.m. There is a free dinner from 5-6 p.m. followed by break out groups that include art and well-being; brain tumor; children of parents with cancer; coping with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and slow-growing lymphoma; coping with multiple myeloma; and living with cancer. 

Hoyer also facilitates the weekly Cancer Caregiver Support Group Thursdays 2-3 p.m. in the CompleteLife Center at IU Simon Cancer Center. “I never know who will come or what they will bring to the group and it’s always wonderful. Everyday people show me such courage in their willingness to be vulnerable, to heal. That includes the amazing staff I work with here at IU Simon,” said Hoyer.

Hoyer is part of a social work team that helps connect patients with such resources as counseling, lodging, transportation, family support, financial/insurance assistance, and legal aid. Beyond the practical needs, Hoyer also wants patients to recognize their own strengths, abilities and interests.

“They have lives. They go to school, or work, movies with friends, and attend church.  Part of my role, as I see it, is helping them reframe this bout with cancer,” said Hoyer. “Because although we’re dealing with this disease, I want them to remember their interests, who they love, who loves them, what makes them happy, and, oh, yes, that they also have cancer. Whoever walks through the door, I meet them where they are. I call it listening deeply, having a compassionate presence. I stand there with them where they are.”

She often asks patients: “What do you like to do?”  Hoyer understands that in the fear and flurry of diagnosis and treatment, it’s easy to forget about everything else in life.  “They even forget to really breathe.  They put aside so much that mattered to them before the occurrence of cancer, as well as hobbies, projects or clubs, time with friends, almost hiding at home.  I use gentle reminders of self in real life, who they are despite the illness or because of it. Sometimes I may ask, ‘Tell me about how you met?’ and suddenly that older couple dissolve into joyful, precious memories of their lives. “The shift in the room is palpable, miraculous, brilliant,” said Hoyer.

“I love my job. I have learned that patients are so brave. I call it ‘vicarious resilience’ and it inspires me every day.”

More about Hoyer:

  • She has been married to her high school sweetheart Konstantine “Kim” Orfanos for many wonderful years. They have an “amazing” daughter Zoe Orfanos, 27.
  • Before becoming a social worker she worked in commercial property management. “I realized while I was working in that job that what I liked best was talking with the tenants or our staff about their lives, hopes and dreams. Maybe I could help them. Helping inspire others is important to me.”
  • People may be surprised to learn: “That I worked in hospice for about four years. It was like a graduate course in being present with people, on what is important. When someone is at that end of life and their family sees them at that end of life, they don’t care that they didn’t go to college, lost a loan, or blew out a tire on their car. What’s important is what is left, what is now.”
  • Her hobbies include writing, lots of reading, walking, studying the evolution of consciousness, learning anything, aqua aerobics and meditation.

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.