By: Gwen Spector BSN, RN, COCN, CCP
GI Cancer and Sarcoma Nurse Navigator
Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Medical City Healthcare
Sometimes as you travel down the road of life, everything goes smoothly; you know just where you're going and how long it will take you to get there. You enjoy the view and you're able to travel at a steady pace or maybe even speed by others around you. Then one day-boom-everything comes to a screeching halt. You have cancer. Suddenly, the familiar paths in your life, the directions you knew, aren't there anymore.
A cancer diagnosis is frightening and overwhelming. Often people are stuck, paralyzed with fear and forced to make life-changing decisions; they don't know where or how to start. If you were on the road, you would need your GPS to help you get back on the right route. In cancer care, that's exactly what oncology nurse navigators help you do.
Sarah Cannon nurse navigators navigate or guide patients along their entire cancer journey. Navigators help make that journey smoother by filling in some of the cracks in the often disconnected healthcare system. Navigators are a consistent point of contact for patients and families.
There are many ways navigators can help patients:
- Identify and help remove barriers or obstacles that may prevent patients from getting to where they need to go or that may delay how fast they get there. In cancer care, getting diagnostic testing and treatment within a certain period of time is extremely important. Sometimes people struggle getting to appointments because they don't have transportation or can't afford the copays for the visit. Navigators work with patients to help them find assistance so they can get to their scheduled appointments.
- Direct patients on how to get on the correct pathway and stay on course, redirecting them when needed . Navigators help patients follow the doctor's recommended treatment plan or pathway. They can remind them of appointments, answer and clarify questions, and make sure patients understand their care plan. They also empower patients to talk with their physicians about any concerns or thoughts they have on their treatment.
- Educate patients about their journey: what to expect and how to deal with the bumps in the road. Navigators educate patients about many topics such as treatments, side effects and ways to identify and prevent problems. They provide educational materials and resource links for reference and further learning.
- Bridge and connect patients to community resources . There are patient resources available at both the hospital and within the community but there are often gaps between the two. Navigators help patients get the help and support they need.
- Ease the burden of the journey for patients and families by providing individual and ongoing support. Navigators are at the patient's side, literally and figuratively, to provide encouraging words, a listening ear and a caring hand to hold. They celebrate the big and small milestones with patients and lift them up when they experience disappointment.
Just like when your GPS shows you a route multiple times and eventually you learn how to drive that route on your own, you may not always need your nurse navigator to walk you through every step. Even when this happens, it's comforting for most people to know there's someone there just for them. Sometimes new problems arise and present a new path for discovery. If that happens, the patient can turn to the nurse navigator again for guidance and support. Nurse navigators go the distance with and for the patient from diagnosis through survivorship.