When a Doctor Isn’t Enough
Nurse Navigators Help Patients Through Maze of Cancer-Treatment Decisions, Fears
Navigating the multiple doctors and treatment decisions at the time of a serious diagnosis like breast cancer is so overwhelming that some medical systems are trying patient navigators.
When Judith Nakamura tried to see a surgeon to follow up on her treatment for breast cancer recently, she was told it would be a two-month wait. Colleen Sullivan-Moore stepped in and got Ms. Nakamura an appointment the following week.
Over the course of Ms. Nakamura’s seven months of treatment, Ms. Sullivan-Moore helped her understand the diagnosis and overcome her fears. She was in the recovery room when Ms. Nakamura awoke after her surgeries. And Ms. Sullivan-Moore directed the patient where to buy a wig before she lost her hair to chemotherapy treatment.
One Patient’s Story
“She was the one who answered all the questions I was trying to figure out and coordinated every step for me,” says Ms. Nakamura, 50 years old, who works as chief judge of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. “She really helped get me through that system.”
Cancer patients can get lost floating around in the system and they need someone knowledgeable to help anchor them,” says Dava Gerard, a breast surgeon and administrator in Presbyterian’s cancer-treatment program.
When Ms. Nakamura received her cancer diagnosis, she recalls having a sensation of darkness, and a “weird, empty feeling in the pit of my stomach.” She was unable to absorb “all this information coming at me,” she says. Still, Ms. Nakamura ignored her doctor’s recommendation to contact the hospital’s then-new nurse-navigation program. She recalls throwing the slip of paper with Ms. Sullivan-Moore’s name in the back seat of the car, thinking, “I don’t need anyone to help me,” and going home to go online for information.
Instead, Ms. Sullivan-Moore called her and set up a meeting. Using pictures and charts, the nurse walked Ms. Nakamura through every aspect of the diagnosis and pathology report. Being able to ask questions that had escaped her while she was digesting the news from the doctor, “immediately calmed me down,” Ms. Nakamura says.
Article by LAURA LANDRO
Columnist for the Wall Street Journal
A Patient Advocate / Nurse Navigator can help you navigate through the medical maze offering you help in scheduling, information advice and support.