Breast cancer nurse navigators aid from beginning to post-surgery

Contributing columnist,Peggy WheelerApril 8, 2013 

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When a woman receives a breast cancer diagnosis, she may immediately feel shocked, scared, overwhelmed and confused. Breast cancer nurse navigators are there to help her put together all the pieces of what lies ahead.

At the beginning, the nurse navigator is there to accompany the patient to her first meeting with the surgeon, who will review her pathology report from the biopsy and discuss the surgical options available. Having the navigator present not only provides an extra set of ears, but it also adds another layer of support.

A pathology report can be difficult to understand. The navigator is there to translate the medical terminology into words that the patient can understand. After the patient talks with the surgeon, the navigator remains behind to review all that was said, help with explanations and answer questions.

Each patient brings with her a unique set of life situations. The navigator gets to know the patient and her life situation in order to determine resources that fit her individual needs. These resources may be help with nutrition, appointments, prosthesis, wigs, how to pay for cancer care, or how to find out if her type of breast cancer can be inherited.

The patient's family and friends may identify needs of the patient and also have access to the navigator.

The nurse navigator then provides a bridge of communication from physicians and other health care providers to the patient.

As surgery is completed, the navigator is there to facilitate any further treatment the patient may need.

There comes a point in breast cancer treatment when the patient will hear from the physician, "You have recovered from your surgery and have completed your treatment." The nurse navigator will then compile a treatment summary for the patient, which includes the surgery she had, the type of treatment (radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy), the names of the physicians who treated her, each drug administered and the amount of radiation received.

This treatment summary is sent to the patient and to the patient's primary-care physicians. Follow-up guidelines recommended by The American Society of Clinical Oncology are included.

The relationship between the patient and the breast cancer nurse navigator does not end there. The navigator is available at any time to assist the patient throughout survivorship.

Peggy Wheeler is a breast cancer nurse navigator at Baptist Health Lexington.

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