Nurse Navigators Helping Cancer Patients Through Devastating Diagnosis

A cancer diagnosis can be one of the greatest challenges that an individual can face. Along with the physical and emotional toll of cancer, the diagnosis raises countless questions related to the practical realities of coordinating and paying for care: What do I do now? Where do I go? How will I ever get through this?

To help patients through their devastating diagnosis, St. Peter’s Health Partners (SPHP) offers an innovative Nurse Navigator Program. SPHP nurse navigators are specially trained oncology-certified nurses who act as an advocate for the patient. From the moment of diagnosis, nurse navigators give patients highly individualized help in their time of need – from coordinating medical tests and physician appointments, to helping arrange insurance, or even charity care.

“I have watched over the years as patients, families and caregivers struggle with a new diagnosis of cancer and having to deal with many medical appointments, multiple tests, and insurance issues. They really don’t know where to turn next,” said Barbara McHale, RN, BS, OCN, CBCN, nurse navigator for the St. Mary’s Cancer Treatment Center in Troy.

Nurse navigators serve as liaisons between patients and their cancer care team helping to coordinate the care the patient needs. Navigators can provide one-on-one education, guiding the patient through what to expect during chemotherapy and radiation, and how to deal with the side effects of their treatment. They can also offer referrals to support groups, classes, and other informational programs; and if needed, even arrange for transportation.

“This role is particularly gratifying being able to educate patients, while simultaneously allaying their fears. It is truly an honor to be welcomed into their lives at such a critical time,” said Mary Bowen, RN, MSN, OCN, CBCN, nurse navigator at St. Peter’s Hospital Cancer Care Center in Albany. “Watching the transformation that patients go through from the first indication of an abnormality, to diagnosis, surgery, treatment with chemo and/or radiation, and on to survivorship is truly inspiring to be a part of that. It just reinforces the strength of the human spirit.”

Both McHale and Bowen are leading voices in their field for supporting patients through difficult conversations, and helping them overcome barriers to care so that patients can focus on fighting the disease.

McHale was recognized by Capital Region Action Against Breast Cancer and Siena College with the “Power Up the Pink Medical Professional Award” in 2013. She was also recently cited by the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators for original research on a survivorship program, and serves on the group’s National Research and Mentoring Committee.

Bowen was recognized with the “You’re An Angel Award” from To Life! in 2013. She also has presented programs on survivorship for Susan G. Komen events, and at national forums. Additionally, Bowen serves as president-elect for the Capital District Chapter of the Oncology Nurse Society.

“Knowing that patients and families felt a connection and relied on me for honest, open communication that made their journey easier is a reward in itself,” Bowen said.

“There is a statement that has become my mantra for the past nine years I’ve served as a nurse navigator,” McHale said. She quotes Dr. Harold Freeman of the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation Institute, “No person with cancer should be forced to spend more time fighting their way through the health care system than fighting their disease.”

“I want each and every patient that I care for to have ‘coordinated care that leads to better outcomes,’” McHale said.

SPHP consistently exceeds national benchmarks when compared against national data on the time it takes patients to initiate cancer treatment. Coordinated care means better patient outcomes, giving patients a better chance at beating cancer. Support from nurse navigators also helps decrease the stressful time that patients experience between cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The Nurse Navigation Program is part of SPHP’s complete continuum of care to support cancer patients and their loved ones. As part of its patient-centered, multidisciplinary approach, SPHP offers advanced diagnostic technologies, cutting-edge treatment options, genetic counseling, and clinical trials.

SPHP also offers cancer education on early detection, prevention, and screening. For more information, please contact St. Peter’s Cancer Care Center in Albany at 518-525-6667, St. Mary’s Cancer Treatment Center in Troy at 518-268-5060, or Samaritan Radiation Oncology at 518-271-3775.

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