A diagnosis of breast cancer is often referred to as the first step on a journey. Your nurse navigator is your travel companion on that journey, there to guide, support and care for you.
When a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, she has a lot to process, says Terri Bogan, a nurse navigator for the St. Elizabeth Breast Centers. Bogan and the eight other nurse navigators at St. Elizabeth are there to help her understand her diagnosis and treatment options, coordinate her care and support her every step of the way.
That care begins, she says, even before there is a diagnosis. If a screening mammogram shows the need for additional diagnostic images, the nurse navigator helps the patient schedule an appointment for follow-up imaging and works through insurance questions with her to ensure she has access to the care she needs.
If the diagnosis is positive, the nurse navigator is there to help patients understand what needs to happen and in what order.
Because cancer is an overwhelming, confusing and frightening diagnosis, it’s not surprising that patients have lots of questions and initially may not be able to process everything they are told. That’s why a nurse navigator is in the room when a surgeon explains the cancer diagnosis to a patient and stays with her after the doctor leaves.
“We watch to see what questions the patient and the family have and help interpret what the doctor has said,” she says. “We do a lot of explaining.”
Often, that involves explaining the need for patience. When women learn they have breast cancer, they’re often desperate to take immediate action, Bogan explains. But each woman’s cancer is unique and her care plan will be based on her type of cancer, her unique biomarkers and, the recommendations of a multidisciplinary team that includes surgeons, pathologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, research nurses and nurse navigators to determine the best course of treatment.
“It may be several weeks before we can put together a comprehensive plan of care for them,” she says. “You may have chemotherapy before surgery or you may have it after surgery or your team may determine you won’t benefit from it at all, so the order of things varies pretty widely. The patients know they can always call us if they have questions.”
Once there is a plan in place, the nurse navigator guides the patient through the treatment and follow up process. “After your treatment you’ll be coming back every three to six months for the first year and then once a year for the next five years, so we have an on-going relationship,” she says.
“Cancer is a journey,” she says. “It changes people. I am here to help them in any way I can, and I am privileged to do so.”