Sarah Cannon - October 09, 2014

For newly-diagnosed patients, breast cancer is foreign territory, full of unfamiliar and potentially frightening words. Decisions need to be made, options reviewed and weighed, and all while trying to handle day-to-day personal obligations that don't stop just because of a cancer diagnosis.

Sarah Cannon created a nurse navigation system , with specially-trained nurse navigators that support patients as they live through the many stages of cancer, and the process starts at diagnosis so that patients have support from day one.

As Cynthia McArdle, nurse navigator in the breast care in the Kansas City market, explained, "My role is to remove barriers, identify resources, and in general, reassure patients that there is someone focusing on their needs. They don't have to worry if everything is being scheduled at the right time or if the information is being communicated to everyone involved in their care, because they know that their nurse navigator is tracking it all. Most importantly, we ensure that patients understand what the results mean and why their physician is recommending a specific test or course of treatment."

How Nurse Navigation Helps

The navigation process typically begins when a patient has a BIRAD (Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System) 4 or 5, meaning the mammogram indicated suspicious abnormalities or lesions that have a high probability of being malignant. While navigators also serve as a resource for both the primary care provider and the oncology care team, patients are their primary focus.

"Most of these patients are in a really vulnerable period of time. Everyone is really scared and anxious to get the biopsy done," said McArdle. Once the biopsy is completed, McArdle follows up with the patient with pathology results and provides whatever support they need, from accompanying them to their first appointment with a surgeon and oncologist through their entire care plan.

Serving With Passion

McArdle knows from firsthand experience how important it is to have someone knowledgeable to lean on during such a difficult time. "In 2006, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I heard the word 'cancer' and I totally shut down. The experience of knowing that I was a nurse, a professional, and I couldn't hardly process what was being told to me. It was definitely a defining experience for me," she said. "So navigating newly diagnosed patients is a personal journey for me - I'm happy I can provide them the support that I know, firsthand, they need."

Since completing her training in March 2014, McArdle has navigated more than 100 patients between the two facilities she serves through HCA Midwest Health in Sarah Cannon's Kansas City market Centerpoint Medical Center and Lee's Summit Medical Center . And even though the caseload and paperwork can be overwhelming at times, "I really love what I'm doing. The patients are great and the doctors that I'm working with have been really collaborative so it's been a great experience. People who go into navigation are motivated because they are breast cancer survivors or have been in oncology many years and are passionate about it. You feel like you are making a difference in somebody's life at a critical point."