Helping patients find meaning in their cancer journey

Social worker Danielle Siegel provides mental health support after a life-altering diagnosis.
Danielle Siegel is a social worker with the Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology.
Danielle Siegel is a social worker with the Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)

For Danielle Siegel, LCSW, counseling people with cancer is sacred work.

“The patients we get to work with, they are a testament to human resilience in this world,” says Siegel, a social worker with the Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology. “To be able to see that firsthand — to see them move through these processes with integrity and dignity — it’s absolutely beautiful.”

Facing a cancer diagnosis is one of the most pivotal moments in a person’s life.

“It’s a moment that calls their mortality into question. It illuminates what’s valuable and meaningful to them in their lives,” Siegel says. “And what feels really sacred is that people allow us to be a part of this experience and allow us to help shape what this means for them and what this means for their loved ones, as well. And it’s an incredible privilege to do that.”

Built around the premise that cancer affects a person’s body, mind and spirit, the Simms/Mann Center offers psychosocial care that’s part of overall cancer treatment plans at UCLA Health. Simms/Mann Center clinicians provide individual and group therapy, host workshops and can accompany patients to medical visits.

Moved by justice

Even before Siegel went into social work, she was drawn to supporting individuals facing hardship, helping them find justice and meaning despite challenging circumstances. 

After graduating from UC Berkeley, Siegel worked for a housing program that served people who were previously homeless. That’s when she realized she wanted to do work that was intersectional — something that encompassed health as well as issues of fairness and equality.

During graduate school at Hunter College in New York, she interned with an outpatient oncology clinic “and fell in love with the work and the meaning of the work.” 

“In the context of this work, we deal with a lot of issues related to housing, immigration, issues around racial identity and gender disparities,” Siegel says. “We really see the whole gamut of what happens in the health care space, because cancer doesn’t discriminate.”

The Los Angeles native joined the Simms/Mann Center when she returned to her hometown in 2020. She provides individual therapy for people undergoing cancer treatment at UCLA Health and their loved ones, as well as grief and bereavement support for spouses and family members. 

Siegel also works at UCLA Health oncology clinics in Pasadena and Downtown Los Angeles, where she collaborates with providers and sits bedside with patients.

It’s heartening for patients and providers to have Simms/Mann clinicians on hand to provide emotional support, she says: “We’re able to really tend to that mental health piece in a way that may have otherwise been overlooked or may have been missed.”

Connecting to humanity

While Siegel’s patients come from all walks of life and may be facing different kinds of health challenges, what she sees day to day is the common humanity that unites us all.

“At the core, so many of us have shared values,” she says. “It’s really about the importance of connection — often family —the importance of love and of making a meaningful impact on the world.”

The work she does with the Simms/Mann Center also resonates deeply with her own values, Siegel says.

“Some of those values are rooted in my Jewish identity. Some of those values are rooted in social justice and my sense of inequality in this world and trying to do work that addresses that in an intentional way,” she says. “This work is really about connecting as human beings; connecting as individuals and seeing each other’s humanity. I never go home thinking, ‘Well, that was a wasted day.’ It always feels meaningful.”

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