Elizabeth J. Clark

Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH

We at NCCS are devastated to report the passing of Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Clark on Saturday, May 23, 2020.

Betsy was a true champion for cancer survivors. Her leadership, service, and contributions to NCCS and the field of cancer survivorship were vast. She was formerly Executive Vice President of NCCS, and the COO for THE MARCH…Coming Together to Conquer Cancer, which culminated in a national rally in Washington, DC in September 1998 that brought more than 100,000 supporters to the National Mall, and more than a million to satellite events nationwide.

She was the author or co-author of many NCCS publications and resources, such as the Cancer Survival Toolbox®; Imperatives for Quality Cancer Care: Access, Advocacy, Action, and Accountability; You Have the Right to be Hopeful; Teamwork: The Cancer Patient’s Guide To Talking With Your Doctor; Self-Advocacy: A Cancer Survivor’s Handbook; and many others.

Betsy Clark (right) at THE MARCH in September 1998.

A social worker, she was the longtime CEO of the National Association of Social Workers from 2001-2013 and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.

Betsy described herself as a “hope advocate” after hearing from cancer survivors about their experiences. Her most recent book, published in 2017, was entitled Choose Hope (Always Choose Hope). A quote from her book:

Hope is powerful—more powerful than fear or despair or even grief. Your hope always stands waiting, ready to help you cope and move forward. No matter how difficult or dire the situation, hope is possible and necessary. Never give in to hopelessness. Instead, choose hope. Always choose hope.Elizabeth J. Clark

Cancer Survivor Toolbox Team Colleagues Remember Elizabeth Clark

Katherine Walsh, PhD, MSW, LICSW

Betsy was the penultimate advocate for, and champion of, hope. In her recent book Choose Hope (Always choose hope), she wrote:

“My interest in hope began decades ago with my first job as a medical social worker in a hospital hematology/oncology unit. At that time, a diagnosis of cancer was often equated with a death sentence. Despite poor odds, I found that patients continued to hope and that their hopes changed as their situations changed. I watched people get discouraged with treatments and side effects, but I recall very few people who gave up hope completely… Years later, I became involved with the cancer survivorship movement. Cancer therapies had advanced. Patients were not only living longer, but many were being cured of cancer… Once again, I was struck by individual stamina, perseverance and hopefulness. Hope is like a kaleidoscope, changing as situations and circumstances change. With each turn of the Kaleidoscope, you have a choice. Always choose hope.” (Clark, 2017)

Her leadership in, and her prolific writings on hope, advocacy, and survivorship, including her authorship of the Cancer Survival Toolbox, are a legacy that will continue to inform social workers, survivors, and advocates for decades to come.

Carol P. Marcusen, MSW, LCSW, BCD

Yesterday I went to my phone to call my friend Betsy. It had been awhile since we spoke to each other and I just wanted to hear her voice and feel the emotional lift from speaking with her. I paused. I realized that my dear friend was not going to be able to answer my call. I would not be able to hear her voice and share my thoughts and ideas with her this time. I felt sad; and yet I felt blessed that I had known her, had learned from her, had laughed with her, and had cried with her. It will not be in this life that Betsy and I will be able to do this again.

Betsy was one of those friends that even though you both had not spoken in a while and time had suddenly evaporated from the last time that you had touched base with each other; that when you finally did speak, it was like you had never been apart, and that you just picked up where you both had left off. The relationship was easy, relaxed, and uplifting.

Betsy is a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a colleague, a mentor, an advocate, a confidante, the list goes on. She was so full of life and energy along with knowledge and skills. She was and is so much to me. Thank you, Betsy, for being you and making me a better person because of all that you are!

Susan Leigh, RN, BSN

Retired, NCCS Past President, Cancer Survivor

Betsy was one of the most creative, focused and productive colleagues I have ever had the privilege to know. Yet, I often found myself exasperated with her brilliance and competence. As I am a major procrastinator and introvert, I simply could not keep up with her. But rather than underscoring my scholarly deficiencies, Betsy always made herself available to mentor, support, and highlight the unique contributions that everyone else had to offer. She was also hilarious and loved to tell everyone that she and I had a very different understanding of the word “deadline.” Betsy would say: “I always think of a deadline as a time to finish. Susie thinks a deadline is a time to start!” And then she would laugh. And a glorious and contagious laugh it was!

Betsy recently told a friend who was interviewing her that she thought the Cancer Survival Toolbox was one of the greatest accomplishments of her career. But she was also an amazingly productive and professional NCCS Board President. She oversaw the development of the Imperatives for Quality Cancer Care, and made sure it was professionally done. While recovering from a fall, she wrote the NCCS booklet You Have the Right to be Hopeful. The national Ribbon of Hope project was her idea. And she also worked tirelessly alongside our beloved Ellen Stovall to make The March on Washington a reality. Betsy often talked about how naive she and Ellen were to ever think they could pull off such an enormous project And then she would laugh while telling stories about everything they didn’t know about working with the National Park Service before embarking on this colossal program on the Mall in Washington, DC. But due to their passion and tenacity, and with help from NCCS staff and multiple volunteers, they did pull it off – and survived to tell about it!

Betsy Clark—social worker extraordinaire, champion of HOPE, and icon of NCCS. We will miss you, and we will never forget you.

Barbara Hoffman, JD

NCCS Co-Founder & Past Board Chair, Cancer Survivor

Betsy played such an important role in all of our lives, from the Toolbox, to leading the NCCS Board for many of its most productive years, to writing about survivorship. I was inspired by Betsy’s keen editing skills and her ability to write volumes on her phone.

But mostly I was touched by her compassion—her innate ability to apply science with sincere personal empathy. We are all so fortunate that she taught us how to hope.

If you wish to share a remembrance of Betsy, please do so in the comment section below.

Link to Elizabeth J. Clark’s Obituary »

Ellen L. Stovall, Fitzhugh Mullan, and Betsy Clark

Elizabeth J. Clark (right) at an event in the early 90s with Then-NCCS President Ellen L. Stovall (left) and NCCS Co-Founder Fitzhugh Mullan (center).

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Guest Post by Elizabeth J. Clark: Self-Advocacy is Critical to Quality Cancer Care

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