Navigating the Road to Cancer Recovery
Author: Monette Domingo, RN
Specialty: Nurse Navigator
A cancer diagnosis is overwhelming. From accepting the initial news to
navigating treatment options and adapting to treatment plans, cancer patients
have to make drastic adjustments to their lives. All of these changes,
understandably, result in high levels of fear, anxiety, and stress.
Alleviating that stress and helping cancer patients feel less overwhelmed
throughout their treatment and recovery is one of the most rewarding aspects
of my role as a nurse navigator.
What is a Nurse Navigator?
At Washington Hospital, nurse navigators are clinical nurses with specialized
training in oncology and in navigating all aspects of a patient’s
cancer care. All at once, we act as an advocate for personalized patient
care, a liaison between the patient and the medical team who treat them,
and as a coordinator for the logistical or “behind-the-scenes”
aspects of each of our patient’s care. Nurse navigators are educators.
In order to empower patients to participate in their treatment plan, it’s
important that they understand the expected side effects.
We are passionate about optimizing our patients’ experience by ensuring
that they have the resources, information, and compassionate support they
need at every stage of their treatment and well into their recovery and
Here are just a few of the ways nurse navigators help patients.
We are one of the first care professionals that our patients speak to once
they receive their diagnosis, and we are a constant resource for them
from that point on. Nurse navigators assist patients with scheduling treatments
and help them monitor their continued progress. As their care liaisons,
we coordinate their care while helping them manage communications from
the Hospital and from their providers.
Our goal is to mitigate or eliminate any and all potential barriers for
our patients so that they can remain focused on their recovery. Potential
obstacles for treatment are assessed during the initial appointments,
and regular stress assessments are conducted to ensure that our patients
are having their needs met at every stage. Sometimes additional needs
may surface through our conversations during treatment appointments. Patients
may need referrals to other service providers throughout the Healthcare
System, such as dietitians, social workers, or care providers in the lymphedema center.
While patient stress levels are understandably high when they start treatment,
their stress scores almost always decrease after that initial appointment
and as they continue to work with us.
Not all patients have access to a vehicle or public transportation services.
Additionally, some patients simply cannot travel to and from treatments
or appointments on their own. We work with those patients to arrange safe
and reliable transportation for their care. At the
Radiation Oncology Center at Washington Hospital, our nurse navigators partner with
Drivers for Survivors in order to ensure that our patients have access to transportation, and
to drivers who genuinely care for their safety and well-being.
Researching Financial Assistance Options
It is no secret that medical expenses are an incredibly stressful aspect
of undergoing cancer care and treatment. We work closely with patients
in order to provide a sound understanding of their care and insurance
options. We also work diligently to ease the burden for our patients by
identifying potential financial support resources.
Promoting Emotional Health and Wellness Resources
Physical cancer treatments are, of course, the critical aspect of a successful
recovery, but the most effective cancer care plans address every aspect
of patient health—mind, body, and spirit. Nurse navigators are responsible
for helping patients monitor their emotional health while providing them
with outlets for support when they need it. We have the ability to refer
patients to counselors or other mental health specialists, and we may
encourage patients to adopt
mindfulness exercises like meditation, which can help alleviate fear or manage stress.
Providing a Compassionate Ally
Ultimately, nurse navigators are an ongoing source of comfort, assurance,
and advocacy for cancer patients. Our primary goal, other than seeing
them through to recovery, is to make sure they know that they are not
alone. Personally, it is an honor to be a constant presence for my patients,
to help them optimize their care, and to continue supporting them in their
Washington Hospital website to learn more about the
Radiation Oncology Center, your personal
cancer care options, or to explore our additional
patient support resources.
Posted April, 2020