Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Social Worker Marshia Caceres
Oct 11, 2021 Victoria Pelham
She meets Transplant Center patients where they are, lending a listening ear to concerned children and adults (and their family members), who are either on a waiting list for a match or about to receive a new organ—but rarely feel ready for transplant, regardless of how long they have been sick. Marshia stays with them from illness and surgery through recovery, anti-rejection treatments, their eventual return home and reintegration to their new daily lives.
"At times you're a cheerleader, and at times you're really just there to sit and listen."
"We're really the only team that has access to all of those phases and serves as a constant part of their journey," she says.
That unique window into their care makes her work even more special, she adds. Over the past 13 years, Marshia has been a steadfast anchor of support, guiding countless Cedars-Sinai patients through the emotional rollercoaster of kidney failure or end-stage lung disease and transplantation. Her personal touchstones? Compassion and consistency, facing each challenge as it comes.
"We take it one step at a time," she says.
How do you walk patients through the twists and turns of transplantation?
Marshia Caceres: Being present for them and honoring whatever it is they need throughout their experience. At times you're a cheerleader, and at times you're really just there to sit and listen.
One of the ways we help is by acknowledging how difficult this is. There's not enough education you can have that really prepares you for transplant. It's about accepting what's coming and knowing difficult times may lie ahead, but you're going to pull from your strengths, have people around you and get through it.
Once patients receive a transplant, they might also experience guilt or grief—mixed feelings about what's happening to them and where they are in their recovery. They realize, 'I was just able to have my life saved, while I know on the other side of this there's a family who doesn't have their loved one now.' Normalizing that for them and validating the way that that experience is shared among other patients is important.
What other roles do you play as a social worker?
MC: We also bridge the gap between the patient and the family system and the medical system and help them navigate that. We are advocates when patients need resources or linkages to other services and providers.
Where did you grow up, and how did your upbringing lead you to where you are now?
MC: I was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. My parents are Latino of Argentinian descent. My sister and I are first-generation American citizens. Our parents from a very young age instilled in us the value of a good education and working hard, providing access to opportunities.
They also really emphasized the importance of being grounded and anchored in faith. Through that spiritual lens, I was always taught to help people. So, my parents' values were what directed me in the path of being of service because I always felt it was part of my life and what I needed to do in my future.
Why did you choose social work?
MC: I can't say I always knew, but I think I've always been on the path to being a social worker. Spending time with friends way back in grade school and listening to them, talking about their problems and worries and supporting them through hard times—that was really important and special to me.
I had a lot of influences from great adults in my life who laid the groundwork for me to explore my options in the helping professions. By the time I went to college, I was absolutely set on this field.
I spent about eight years in public service working with children and families and learned so much. Then my interest expanded, and I wanted to get a different experience, so I went toward the medical field. I've been in it for 15 years, and I've never looked back. It's rewarding. It's gratifying. It's emotional. It's beautiful.
I was also able to transfer the experiences I had working with kids and their families to working with other vulnerable, underserved populations.
Being a Latina in medicine is still rare. Does your heritage play a part in your professional life?
MC: I speak Spanish about 50% of the day. That's a big thing for me. I'm always very glad to be able to help our Spanish-speaking population, because when you are able to help them through something in their own native language, they process the information better than using a third-person interpreter.
We can tell the relief on their faces and in their understanding of what's going on. They seem to definitely appreciate that and do better.
You see people during deeply vulnerable, often life-threatening moments. How do you cope?
MC: This is something that affects all of us—no one has a map.
I've come to accept that I will need to feel what I feel and allow myself to experience whatever emotions come up for me during that process. That's not to say I'm going to let my own experiences or emotions get in the way of being able to provide care in an objective, compassionate manner. But we're human, and of course we are going to feel things about what's happening.
What do you do in your free time to unwind?
MC: I am learning to rest. But movement is also key—taking a walk, grounding exercises, even just stepping outside barefoot in the grass and looking up.
I also spend time with my husband, my sister and parents, as well as extended family and close friends. I'm fortunate enough to be able to enjoy meals with them and laugh. After this pandemic, we really value being present and being together, getting back to the simple things.