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Nurse Navigators Guide Patients Through Breast Cancer Care

Caring. Compassion. Understanding. Kleenex.

Mary Rooney, RN, BSN, OCN

Mary Rooney, RN, BSN, OCN, and Marge Franke, RN, MBA, go through staggering amounts of all these in the course of an average workday.

Marge Franke, RN, MBA

The pair are nurse navigators for the Crozer-Keystone Health System cancer services program. On a daily basis they, with the support of Administrative Director of Oncology Marie DeStefano, RN, MSN, FAAMA, guide women — and some men — through the emotional, confusing and, oftentimes, frightening process of breast cancer treatment.

Follow-ups. Phone calls. Education. More Kleenex.

For Rooney, an average day begins in the mammography suite at Crozer Regional Cancer Center in Upland, Pa. She meets with patients with abnormal test results who must move farther into the diagnostic process, be it a biopsy in the mammography department or a surgical consult.

Similarly, Franke, who works out of Delaware County Memorial Hospital in Drexel Hill, Pa., is summoned to mammography anytime there is an abnormal test result. She’ll meet with the patient and discuss the radiologist’s comments. Franke further explains the mammogram findings and then gets in touch with the patient’s primary care physician.

Then Franke sends the patient home with educational materials to read and her own contact information, in case questions arise.

“They’re kind of in shock at that point,” Franke says of her patients. “Right when they’re told there’s something wrong with their mammogram — even though it may be benign — they have trouble processing it.”

Follow-up is a major part of the routine at this critical juncture of care. For Rooney and Franke, it’s all about making sure the patients stay in the loop and don’t get lost to the system. True to their titles, they navigate their patients’ care, making sure primary physicians provide referrals to surgeons in a timely fashion and answering any and all of the patients’ questions and concerns.

The nurses usually meet with patients before their biopsies. If those tests come back with a benign finding, there are usually some relieved tears and the end of the relationship. However, if cancer is present, a whole other process begins.

Marie DeStefano, RN, MSN, FAAMA

“When you get breast cancer, you’ve got to navigate between knowing you have to get a biopsy and seeing a surgeon and a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist,” says DeStefano. “The task of trying to do all that is so overwhelming for some people that they just don’t know where to start. It’s important to have someone hold their hand and agree to walk them through the system, to say, ‘We’re here for you, this is what you need to do next.’ ”

Hand-holding. Worry. Wigs. Still more Kleenex.

Rooney says she’ll see about 30 patients a month. Some receive good news; others don’t. But whatever the outcome of a biopsy, she, like Franke, is committed to being there for the duration of their treatment.

The process is an intensely personal journey — and not just for the patients. Take Rooney. She’s been down the disease’s path with her mother, her sister and a close friend. She knows healing means so much more than science and statistics.

To be a nurse navigator is to be a one-stop show of support. Some women worry about how to find wigs after chemotherapy. Others worry about getting their bills paid and caring for their families. Some simply need someone to cry with them.

“After we make sure they’re in the system, I’m a resource for that patient,” Rooney says. “I may go see them on their first day of treatment, or reach out to them and see how they’re doing. But most of the time, they’ll call me if they need something, whether it be financial resources or education or things for personal appearance. We’re here to get them wherever they need to go.”

Says Rooney, “You don’t always have all the answers, but you have the resources to help them find their way.”


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By | 2020-04-15T15:49:53-04:00 January 28th, 2008|Categories: Nursing Specialties, Specialty|0 Comments

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