Navigator Advocates for Breast Cancer Patients

October 31, 2016

By Rita Glaze, RN, OCN
Mercy Cancer Center

For a woman with breast cancer, getting the news can be one of the most difficult times in her life. Having someone to help guide her through the process can make the journey easier.

A breast cancer nurse navigator helps the patient at every step from detection through diagnosis and treatment. The navigator is a resource for guidance, support and answers, serving as the focal point of contact for patients facing a complex maze of medical professionals, appointments and treatment. She is the force to bring the treatment team together.

The Mercy Breast Center, accredited as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology, features a team of highly trained specialists – including radiologists, medical and radiation oncologists, surgeons, reconstructive surgeons, pathologists, mammography and ultrasound technologists – and access to Mercy Joplin’s comprehensive cancer center.

Making informed decisions
Breast cancer is an unexpected diagnosis that most women know little about. At the time of diagnosis, while anxiety is high, a woman is asked to participate in complex decisions that require time and understanding. That’s where the breast cancer nurse navigator steps in to help.

The navigator wants the patient to be educated. Information is the means to restoring control, making it possible to work with the medical team. There are many decisions to make. Each patient is provided information specific to her diagnosis.

It’s about the patient
Navigation is not about the patient’s cancer; it is about each patient with cancer. Every woman has expectations about what is likely to happen, so she needs relief from uncertainty, knowledge about her diagnosis and to know what to do to change or manage the outcome.

The navigator remains a constant care provider throughout treatment and recovery. Every breast cancer diagnosis potentially is life-threatening and impacts the woman’s body image when surgical intervention and alteration of her breast occurs.

As a patient advocate, the navigator ensures the patient is receiving the best care. This creates a bond the patient shares with her treatment team because it’s a long journey. This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

Starting the journey
Nearly every woman’s journey begins with a mammogram. If a biopsy is performed, her results are presented in 24 to 48 hours, when the patient comes for biopsy site care with the navigator and the radiologist.

It’s often said the only thing the patient hears is the word “cancer.” The role of the navigator is to help each patient to be prepared, familiar with terms she is going to hear and to know the navigator will be there as a resource.

The most important thing the patient should understand on that first day when receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer is, in most cases, she has time to receive the information and education she’ll need to make informed decisions.

Surgical decisions (including possible consults with reconstructive surgery) are followed by discussions with medical and radiation oncology about additional treatments. The patient is given knowledge about surgery options, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, genetic testing and possible participation in clinical trials to be able to actively participate in these discussions.

During the journey, the patient may encounter barriers such as health insurance, finances, transportation, child care and spiritual support. The navigator is the familiar face, the person she can rely on to help her.

The breast cancer nurse navigator gives the patient the power to ask questions, knowing that the navigator can intervene on her behalf. Being specially trained to educate, support, assess and triage the patient to appropriate providers, the navigator ensures that each patient receives the best care.

The key to my success as the breast navigator at Mercy is the commitment and support of every single specialty involved in each woman’s care from start to finish.

Rita Glaze is a registered nurse and oncology certified nurse. For more information, call the Mercy Breast Center at 417-556-2273 or the Mercy Cancer Center at 417-782-7722.

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