Igniting Hope

Lisa Capparella, LCSW, OSW-C, M.S.S. ’06,
named 2023 Oncology Social Worker of the Year

Lisa Capparella headshot
Lisa Capparella

When Lisa Capparella was an undergraduate studying elementary education, her mom was diagnosed with cancer. She still remembers the impact of the oncology social worker, who had

trained at Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. Capparella earned her degree and began student teaching, but something deep down told her she hadn’t found her true calling.

With that social worker still on her mind, she enrolled in GSSWSR's Career Changers Program. That lit a fire, and she went on to earn her master’s degree in social services from Bryn Mawr in 2006. “I fell in love with oncology social work quite quickly," she says. “I really enjoyed my time at Bryn Mawr; it was the right school and the right experience”—and, she adds, a meaningful way to continue her mom’s legacy.

Capparella is now manager of Patient, Family, and Community Programs at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in Philadelphia, a position she’s held since 2017. She also completed a fellowship in palliative and end-of-life care through New York University’s Zelda Foster Studies Program, where she helped people with serious cancer diagnoses create life review videos.

Earlier this year, much to her surprise, she was named the Oncology Social Worker of the Year, an award sponsored by the Cancer Support Community to recognize a truly exceptional Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW) member. Capparella, who was nominated by three colleagues familiar with her work, received the award at the AOSW Annual Conference Raleigh, N.C., this past June.

“Our work is more than just a job; it is a vocation—an opportunity to illuminate even the darkest corners and ignite hope in those who need it most.” —Lisa Capparella, from her acceptance speech

“Honestly, I struggled with letting them nominate me,” she says. “I don’t do this work for those things. What’s important to me is reducing the burden that people with cancer face.”

But she admits that one of the nomination letters, from a colleague in Houston who witnessed Capparella’s work as co-chair of the AOSW Conference from 2020–2022, “brought me to tears.” During the height of COVID, Capparella had to pivot quickly to arrange a virtual conference, but she made it happen. The letter in part read: “Gold melts when introduced to heat. Grace under heat and pressure is the very thing that turns coal to a diamond—Lisa is most assuredly one of the most precious crown jewels within the Association of Oncology Social Work.”

Although Capparella finds time to volunteer with the AOSW, research, and publish, her true love is working with patients and caregivers. She built the programs at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center from the ground up, and she is now preparing her team to move into a new ambulatory cancer center in 2024. There, patients and caregivers will have better access to services such as support groups, music therapy, acupuncture, reiki, and massage.

“When I accepted the award, I talked about the patients who allow us to stand by them and help them—sometimes they don’t even know they need help,” she says. “It is an inspiration to work so intimately with patients and caregivers to reduce the burden of going through a cancer diagnosis and managing symptoms.

“I made the right decision, and I am grateful every day.”