Monday, February 4, 2008

Nurse Navigators As Breast Cancer Caretakers

When I was going through breast cancer treatment, I would have given even more of my breast if I could have had a nurse navigator guiding my care. These professionals follow cancer patients from diagnosis through follow-up care and help make sense of the doctors, treatments, jargon, and options while providing a supportive presence. In most cases, navigators collaborate with all members of the medical team; educate and counsel patients and their families; and coordinate care with oncologists, surgeons, pharmacists, dieticians, and counselors.

Nurse navigators are available at hospitals across the country. Their numbers are growing, as more nurses are being trained in this speciality. Most so far are focused on breast cancer, although other types of cancer are increasingly starting to be covered. To see what nurse navigators can do, check out the information about the navigator program at Mission Hospitals in Asheville North Carolina. Denise Steuber has been a nurse navigator at Mission for 12 years. She specifically works with breast cancer patients—even going to chemo and doctors' appointments with them—but she says the Mission nurses are also involved with overall cancer screenings. The program is funded by the Mission Foundation and is free to patients.

Check with your doctor about the possibility of having a nurse navigator on your team. If your hospital does not have this service yet, encourage them to start one. This might be a good time to be a squeaky wheel.