Demystifying the Maze of Cancer Treatment
Learning you have cancer can be overwhelming. Learning to navigate cancer treatment doesn’t have to be. At Abington Memorial Hospital (AMH), patients can rest assured they are never alone. Our navigators are guides who work closely with patients and their families every step of the way, offering personalized care and one-on-one support.
Mike Schumacher, RN
Patients being treated for cancer or those who are newly diagnosed, may feel frightened, confused or intimidated by the rush of information surrounding a cancer diagnosis and treatment options. “The navigators help steer patients through the system of care here,” says Kelly Pressler, RN, nurse navigator, The Rosenfeld Cancer Center. “From diagnostic testing through physician consults, education, treatment and follow up, we are there for our patients throughout the entire continuum.”
Physicians introduce patients to the navigators, at diagnosis, the beginning of treatment or somewhere along the continuum of care. Managing cancer may include the expertise of medical, radiation or gynecologic oncologists; surgeons; radiologists; pathologists and primary care physicians. “As nurse navigators, we help to alleviate some of the anxiety and worry patients may feel about managing all the facts, details and plans for their treatment,” says Mike Schumacher, RN, nurse navigator, The Rosenfeld Cancer Center. For example, navigators provide counseling and information, may serve as a liaison between patients and their care providers, may accompany patients to appointments and help to keep track of treatment schedules and the specifics of care.
Each navigator specializes in specific types of cancer, providing patients with an added layer of expertise. (There are eight navigators in all, some located at The Rosenfeld Cancer Center and others at sites throughout AMH.) Crucial to the role of navigator is the ability to empower, educate and advocate for cancer patients. “During what can be a confusing and frightening time, we discuss with them in detail their diagnoses and make sure they understand their treatment options and the reasons physicians recommend certain treatments,” says Mike.
Navigators also connect patients with other healthcare and community resources as needed, including genetic counseling, social services, dietary and nutritional services, family counseling, integrative medicine, psychological services, financial services and support services, among others. Throughout treatment and recovery, navigators take a holistic approach to care, meaning they consider the interconnectedness of body, mind and spirit. For patients, learning self care can require a lot of hand holding—one of the things our navigators do best. “The navigator is the one person who knows your entire story,” says Kelly. “I’ve actually seen the color return to patients’ faces when they realize there is someone who will be there for them and their family through the entire process…someone they can always contact whenever they need help or have any questions.”
Being that “someone” for a patient is more than a job for Betty Cummings, RN, breast cancer coordinator “I feel privileged to be a part of my patients’ lives,” says Betty. Over the years, she has forged friendships with many patients, some of whom were treated for as few as six months and others with metastatic cancer who have been patients for over 15 years.
It is common for many patients to refer to cancer treatment as a journey. To their patients, navigators are guides and companions who understand what it means to live with cancer.