Nurse Navigators Guide Patients Through Cancer Journey

A friend recently diagnosed with leukemia lamented her frustration with the lack of information she was receiving about her prognosis and upcoming treatment plan. “I can’t possibly be the first person to have these questions. No one is telling me anything.”

That friend was not a patient at Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center at Hancock Regional Hospital where nurse navigators face the cancer journey side-by-side with patients, according to Sherry Lawrence who has fulfilled that role for six years. “I take notes during their appointments and help coordinate all of the additional appointments the doctor makes,” says Lawrence, who has worked in oncology for 25 years. “Cancer patients need a person who can interpret things the doctor says. As nurse navigators, we help them understand what they are going through.”

Her experience has led her to understand that patients don’t always ask the questions, so on their behalf, she will.

“Patients want to know, ‘Is this curable?’ but there is a lot of other information in between that we help them with,” says Lawrence. That includes understanding the process, which may be counter-intuitive for many who have had the term “early detection and treatment” drilled into their brains.

“Patients really want to understand the things like, ‘Are you going to cut it out?’ and ‘Why is it taking so long to get started?’ Sometimes it will be 25 – 30 days before we start treatment, and that can be both frustrating and scary for a newly diagnosed cancer patient,” she explains.

Among the other details the nurse navigators face: options. “Patients both want and need to know ‘what are my options?’ Chemo isn’t always an option, but there are other treatments,” she says. “And eventually, patients will ask, ‘Am I going to have pain?’ Those are questions that will come out over time.”

If and when chemo treatment begins, the nurse navigators coordinate their efforts with an infusion nurse who goes over everything that will occur and is on call for 24 hours for any questions.

“This is something really unique at Hancock Cancer Care,” says Lawrence. “It’s not an answering service and a promise to call later; it’s the infusion nurse on call to answer questions. That is so important and reassuring to our patients.”

Lawrence sees the Cancer Care facility as an incredible resource for residents in Hancock and surrounding counties. “I think many people would be surprised at the extent of care here,” she said. “It is one of the most comprehensive cancer centers I have ever worked with.” For its extensive efforts – including access and service, satisfaction and well-being, quality of care and cancer outcomes, the Cancer program at Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center received a three-year accreditation from the Commission on Cancer (CoC), a quality program of the American College of Surgeons.

That accreditation, says Lawrence, should reassure patients about the level of treatment and support they will receive. “A cancer diagnosis today does not mean the same as it did 20 years ago. There has been substantial progress made in cancer treatments, even in the last five years.”

The oncology team is expert in the most current methods of radiation and medical oncology, as well as innovative new methods—offering comprehensive cancer care right near home. For more information, call the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center at 317.225.2273.