Nurse Navigator Guides Cancer Patients

October 14, 2010

Cheryl Gilbert, a nurse navigator at Mercy Women’s Center, maneuvers cancer patients through a maze of care with love.

Cheryl Gilbert, a nurse navigator
at Mercy Women’s Center

Cheryl Gilbert cradles the telephone to her ear, and speaks in a serene, cadence. Her words are clear, to the point, and wrapped in love.

Gilbert knows no other way.

“Here is my cell phone number,” Gilbert tells the 72-year-old woman on the other line. “Call me if you ever want to talk. And if you want to cry, I’ll cry with you.”

Gilbert’s business is breast cancer – and compassion.

Or, to be more precise, she’s a nurse navigator at Mercy Women’s Center. When a woman is told she has cancer, Gilbert is generally standing by her side and then guides her through the maze of medical procedures to follow.

“A lot of times the last thing a woman hears is ‘cancer,’ ” said Gilbert, who has practiced in the field of oncology since earning a nursing degree in 1998. “Everything after that is a blur … I want them to know I’m going to be with them every step of the way.

“They’re not going to go through this alone.”

On her desk, in a small filing box, are more than 50 white, index cards. She has accumulated them since joining Mercy Women’s Center last month, and each one represents a client who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Markings and notations fill the cards, documenting her personal contact with each client. Despite the large volume, the cards are worn on the edges and smudged with fingerprints.

They have not gone unnoticed. No one does.

“I can’t imagine a field more fulfilling,” Gilbert said. “I love it because the patients draw me in. They’re warriors. They’re fighters. They’re brave. They’re hopeful.

“As a nurse navigator, they allow me to share the experience with them. I’m allowed to embrace them from the beginning, and share their journey every step of the way. I become part of their lives – part of their family.”

Recently, one of her patients – Angie Bond, 42, of Knowles – underwent an unexpected procedure. Gilbert sat in the waiting room with her husband, Eric, until Bond emerged from the surgeon’s room. Gilbert’s presence said it all.

“Cheryl is such a sweetheart,” said Bond, who was diagnosed with breast cancer July 30. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

Each journey comes at an emotional toll. For the next chemotherapy session, or mastectomy, or confirmed diagnosis of breast cancer can always be a day away. And not every story provides a happy ending.

Yet whenever darkness creeps in, Gilbert finds refuge in her faith.

“My relationship with God is how I manage,” Gilbert confessed. “Without Him, I wouldn’t be able to do this job.”

Gilbert and her husband, Dennis, also retreat daily to the presence of her two grandchildren – Luca Paul Baresel, 6; and Milla Grace Baresel, 4. The children live only six miles from their home.

“They are my pride and joy,” Gilbert said. “They bring a smile to my face every day. They brighten my life, and I spend all the time I can with them.”

Still, the profound pull of her work is never far from her heart.

Dr. Rebecca Stough, director of imaging at Mercy Women’s Center, simply calls Gilbert “a blessing.”

“I worried about filling that position when it was open because we needed just the right person,” Stough said. “I no longer worry.”

Jo Bednar, Cheryl’s older sister, isn’t surprised. As the youngest of four girls, Cheryl always displayed a motherly gift.

“This is her calling,” said Bednar, a neonatal nurse at OU Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City.

“She was meant to be a nurse. She’s just always naturally taken care of people. She treats people the way she wants to be treated in life.

“Not many people know this, but she plans to take some time off work soon to be with an elderly woman who is having a surgery. She doesn’t want the woman to be alone. The woman is a patient.”

To schedule a mammogram, call Mercy Women’s Center at (405) 752-3500.

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