You've been told you have cancer. You hardly have time to digest the news before it feels like you've been swept up in a whirlwind of tests, treatments, unfamiliar technology and multiple health care providers.
You fear the unknown. Your family wants answers. If you had a personalized map to guide you through the cancer treatment maze, you would buy it.
Instead, the Genesis Cancer Care Institute has something better: two nurse navigators, Wendy Ballou and Melissa Frantz, who can be a compassionate compass and provide directions to patients during their cancer journey.
When people learn they have cancer, they are scared and anxious. They are listening but not really hearing what is being said. It is very easy for them to get confused or misinterpret what they have been told by their physicians. Their questions usually come after the appointment is over and they are at home pondering the uncertain future they face.
If patients have questions after they talk to their physicians, they can now call a nurse navigator who can reiterate what the physicians have said and instruct them again. They are that one-on-one contact person, resource and guide. They can educate and communicate so that patients and families understand their treatment options or what their treatments, tests or procedures mean.
Cancer nurse navigators can be particularly helpful because cancer treatment usually requires an entire interdisciplinary team.
A Complex Disease
"Cancer is a complex disease," says Wendy Ballou, R.N. "Patients can end up seeing 3-5 physicians during their treatment process -- from their family practice doctor to a gastroenterologist, pulmonologist, urologist, surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist. They can either have surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of those -- depending on their diagnosis and stage.
"We help guide them as they go from doctor to doctor, appointment to appointment and treatment to treatment. We answer the little questions they don't like to bother the doctor's office with like ‘Do I bring my medication to the hospital?' or ‘Why do I have to see so many doctors?' We can reassure them; answer their questions; and, be a support person for them and their families."
The nurse navigator program is one of the latest of many accomplishments at the Genesis Cancer Care Institute. All the strides, however, don't take away the worries and stresses faced by cancer patients and the labyrinth of health providers, tests and treatments. That's why cancer nurse navigators have emerged in the U.S. over the past decade to respond to the complexity of cancer management.
"Patients and families can easily be overwhelmed with information and have difficulty getting to the right place at the right time," Werner says. "Navigators are guides, supporters and communicators who work to smooth the pathways for patients and families. The Genesis Cancer Care Institute understands that care coordination is key to the support of our patients and the quality of their care."
Meeting The Navigator
Cancer patients typically meet a nurse navigator at diagnosis. The navigator makes contact with the patients at various times during the cancer journey, but mostly lets the patient decide how often he or she needs assistance.
Some patients call more frequently. Others may not call as much because they have strong family support or better know the health care system.
"You're helping people through what may be the worst time in their life," Ballou says. "Cancer is life-changing and there will be a lot of questions -- not only from the patients but from family members. A nurse navigator teaches, listens, supports, repeats as many times as needed and is always there to help the patient and his or her family. We consider it a real privilege to help them through this life-changing event."
Nurse navigators perform a comprehensive needs assessment for each patient to pinpoint their medical, social, spiritual, and financial needs. That can lead to other referrals, such as to a social worker, dietitian or the hospital's finance department, for example. The patients appreciate having one person they can call. The nurse navigator may direct them to someone else, but they are not having to make multiple calls to figure out who to call about a particular problem.
Sometimes patients feel let down after they finish their treatment because they are so used to being seen and followed so closely. "It is important our patients know their nurse navigator is available to help them throughout their entire course of treatment and even after their treatment has ended," says Fitzgibbon.
For more information about the cancer nurse navigator program please contact Melissa Frantz RN, OCN at 421-7656 or Wendy Ballou RN, BS, OCN, CCM at 421-1030.