Why Every Cancer Survivor Should Have Access to a Patient Navigator


How do I love my patient navigator? Let me count the ways. I’ve sung the praises of my breast nurse navigator, Sarah Mandel, RN, LSW, CBPN-C, many times in various posts. She came into my life the day after my mastectomy – and with her came the slow bloom of emotional recuperation. I’d like to share what a patient navigator, and specifically a breast nurse navigator does, and why that person will become your absolute best friend in the world.

According to the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Medical Center, the breast nurse navigator “is a dedicated, trained professional with extensive knowledge of breast disease and the resources for women with breast cancer.  As an advocate for the patient, she will:

  1. Provide individualized attention to the patient to respond to her unique needs.
  2. Provide medical information and education, as well as share knowledge regarding support services and resources
  3. Schedule and coordinate appointments and follow up care, as well as track patients to ensure completion of the recommended treatment plan
  4. Assist in eliminating barriers by identifying and referring patients to appropriate medical, social and community resources
  5. Help explain medical terms and processes to the patient and her caregivers throughout the course of treatment and post treatment
  6. Locate services that can help the patient and her caregivers deal with the stress of a cancer diagnosis

Sarah was the first person I met who understood what I was going through and with whom I could be totally honest. I was able to rely on her completely, without worrying about how that would affect her, as I did with family and friends. It was so comforting to know I didn’t have to carry that burden alone anymore.

Sarah gave me her cell phone number! I didn’t call it everyday, mind you. But when I needed her, she was literally there for me. One day she answered her phone and I launched into my problem. After a few minutes, I realized I wasn’t being considerate and asked if she was busy. She admitted she was eating lunch! We agreed she would call me back, which she quickly did and we laughed about how she was trying to listen to me while quietly chewing her pizza.

Each time I discussed a medical issue with Sarah, she surprised me with the question “Do you want me to make a call for you?” I never called her for that reason. I guess I’m so used to doing things myself that, even after the first time she called a doctor’s office for me, I was still surprised when she offered to do it again. But feeling surprised was the least of it – mostly I was relieved that I could hand the issue over to her capable hands and have one less burden to carry.

Sarah called me too, on a regular basis, just to check up on me. Hearing her voice, I always knew she truly cared. And she didn’t limit her assistance to what she alone brought to the table. She showered me with reading material, resources and other support services. She is a one-woman resource library.

Every cancer patient should have access to a patient navigator. I liken it to bobbing up and down in a tiny boat while the troubled waters of cancer threaten your very survival. Shouldn’t every person who has to sit in that boat have a navigator to help guide them over those waters and into safe harbor? Sarah is that person for me, and I am truly grateful to her and Overlook Medical Center for being there every time I need it.

Survival > Existence,

Image courtesy of Putneypics

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