A cancer diagnosis can be extremely emotional, and making sense of health information can also be overwhelming. That is why Community has a dedicated cancer care team and oncology nurse navigators to help cancer patients on their journey.
We sat down with breast health navigator, Sharon Bronnenberg, RN, BSN, OCN, CBCN, to talk about the role an oncology navigator plays in a cancer treatment.
What does a oncology nurse navigator do?
I act as a guide, resource, advocate, educator and liaison for newly diagnosed cancer patients and their family. As an oncology navigator with a focus on breast health, my goal is to get answers to all of their questions so that we allay their fears.
I am a consistent caregiver throughout the cancer journey, coordinating appointments and schedules, and providing resources and information. But the most important thing I do is provide support and hope.
What should a cancer patient expect the first time they meet you?
When I meet with a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient I make sure they know their plan of care, as well as the other doctors that they will be seeing.
I also let them know that they will be very busy when they begin treatment, but that as a breast navigator I will try hard to go to all of their appointments with them. From the very first appointment, I educate and reassure the patient by taking notes and answering questions.
Continuity of care is vital for us in order to make the patient feel comfortable and earn their trust. We all have the same goal: To do everything possible to have the best possible outcome for the patient.
What amazes you about the patients you guide through cancer?
Their thirst for information and wholehearted trust in their doctor/surgeon. Most women are ready to hit breast cancer head on. That leaves me to help them remain positive and hopeful throughout their treatment.
What's even more amazing are the patients who've beat their cancer. They're willing to come back to support current patients. We refer to them as “sister survivors”. They're never far away to lend a hand (or shoulder) to make the journey easier for someone else.
Have you every helped an entire family where multiple women were diagnosed with breast cancer?
Yes, I've helped many mother-daughter pairs through their journey.
We had one family comprised of a mother, daughter and grandmother who were all diagnosed within a year of each other. It’s supportive to have someone going through the same thing as you, but these situations also change the family dynamic. Often, it means that more relatives are involved and the circle of friends and family gets bigger.
But, the Community Breast Care staff is still focused on treating each of the women as individuals and personalizing each woman’s care plan. While they may be comparing notes, each breast cancer case is different and we recognize that.
How does Community personalize care for each woman?
I feel Community Breast Care is personalized in that the navigators are available and visible in the continuum of care. The patients know we are passionate knowledgeable, and are a constant in their journey. We offer them sincere hope and are a source of strength.
How important is it for patients to ask for help?
While most have incredible support systems, we make sure they know they need to accept help.
Accepting help and assistance does not mean they are a weak person. Accepting help will help them fight their disease and often makes their friends and family (who are also hurting) feel better.
As a nurse navigator, I am there to help patients with organizational tools and consulting service. Plus, I am a phone call away if their lives get stressful and overwhelming.
What is the biggest obstacle that patients face?
Some of the biggest obstacles I see are financial, insurance, transportation, and family.
We deal with each one individually and try to solve each woman’s immediate concerns and problems. Community Breast Care is truly a team, and we use a team approach to help our patients.
How important is exercise to the overall care plan?
Daily physical activity has been shown to elevate ones mood and boost energy. The staff at the new South Cancer Center is putting in place a schedule for various exercise programs. There is already a yoga program available to patients.
Most of our patients do yoga and Pilates and are able to keep up doing these types of exercise during the treatment period. Plus, the socialization that takes place at these classes with other survivors is invaluable.
Breast health navigators, like Sharon, can be reached Monday through Friday by phone at 317.355.4114.