Perspectives in Breast Cancer Care: The Nurse Navigator

For many, getting in a car and driving to work, doctor appointments, shopping, or visiting family and friends is a daily occurrence, made easier by years of driving the same route or the GPS on our cell phones. Amazingly, there are even semi-trucks and cars that can drive themselves—navigating their way through road construction, rush hour traffic, and roadway debris using only GPS and the vehicle’s instrument panel!

Unlike vehicles, we are human, and a breast cancer diagnosis can be the roadblock, bridge collapse, or blizzard on our route through life, with the path through the destruction not always intuitive or easy.

Enter the Nurse Navigator (or Care Coordinator), whose job is helping plan, coordinate, and direct a patient’s course through cancer care. Sherill*, Wendy*, and Mariana*, Nurse Navigators in our local Minnesota and Western Wisconsin area, offered insight and perspective about their role in cancer care. “As the number of (cancer care) providers has increased, there is a huge need for a single point person throughout a patient’s cancer treatment that can answer questions, offer support, and share resources, and that is the Nurse Navigator,” shares Sherill. She is thrilled to offer Firefly as a support option to breast cancer patients, especially since “(my patients) can call for Firefly support without even leaving the comfort of their house!” Mariana and Wendy both agree.

Being a Nurse Navigator can be both immensely satisfying and intensely challenging at the same time. Informing a patient of a breast cancer diagnosis is “extremely difficult, and I wish I could travel through the phone to be there with them when I make that call,” shares Mariana. Wendy admits, “There are times when I need to put my head on my desk, cry, or just swear.”

On the other hand, all three Nurse Navigators acknowledge that their job is as rewarding as it is difficult. “I find great joy in knowing that I made a difference in someone’s life . . . (especially) when I receive a thank you note or one of my patients tells me they couldn’t have made it through without me. That makes me feel like I’ve just won a marathon.” adds Wendy.

Being a compassionate listener is key to successfully helping a patient navigate their way through breast cancer. Having had a close family member go through breast cancer, Mariana feels that “my experience has made me more empathetic and my work with breast cancer patients more meaningful.” Sherill agrees, “Just being there, offering support and reassurance and taking away the fear is so important.”

Unfortunately, not all health systems have Nurse Navigators, and not all Nurse Navigators have the same job responsibilities, some of which depends on their certifications or specializations and the health system in which they work. Firefly Sisterhood is not affiliated with any local or national health system, and we strive to ensure that our one-to-one matching program is available to any woman facing a breast cancer diagnosis in the 21 county metro area. We are thankful for all Nurse Navigators/Care Coordinators and other professionals who are sharing the Firefly program.

A huge thank you to Wendy, Sherill, and Mariana for shedding a tiny light on the role of the Nurse Navigator/Care Coordinator in a woman’s breast cancer experience.

* All names have been changed to protect privacy.

Written by Amy Tix, Firefly Staffer and breast cancer survivor, who is so thankful for nurse navigators and the role they play in oncology care!

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