News & Events

Nurse navigator can take edge off diagnosis

October 5, 2016

hahn

The following column is an interactive question-and-answer feature appearing the first Wednesday of each month. Readers are encouraged to send health-related questions that will be answered by a local medical professional to info@achosp.org. Today's question is being answered by Brandy Hahn, BSN, RN, OCN, cancer coordinator at ACH.

Q: "I have recently received a cancer diagnosis and my physician recommended I speak to a nurse navigator. I don't know where to turn; what is he talking about?" -- Trish P, Alliance

A: A cancer diagnosis can be a very scary diagnosis and often leaves a person confused, angry and not sure where or what to do next.

A nurse navigator is a nurse trained in oncology (cancer) that your physician can put you in contact with or you can contact yourself. The role of the nurse navigator is to help you as the patient and the family understand the diagnosis, treatment options, what to expect and also to help with any barriers which might interfere with you starting your treatment. Let's look at each of the pieces with which a nurse navigator could help.

It is not the role of the navigator to tell you about your diagnosis or to decide what treatment is best for you. Those decisions are between you and your physician. However, the navigator can help you understand what your physician said and also discuss potential treatment options/testing which may be required, so that when you see your physician for the first time, the words are familiar to you and you can focus on what your physician is saying regarding treatment.

Diagnosis -- your physician will talk with you about your cancer diagnosis. However, many times when you first hear the word cancer, you don't hear anything that is said after that. The nurse navigator can review the discussion for you and explain what was said in simple terms, just as your physician did but at a time when you can hear what is being said.

Even if the nurse navigator is not present during the discussion, the nurse navigator knows cancer, what testing is recommended to complete the staging work-up and what treatment options are available. The nurse navigator can also help to coordinate the care and facilitate testing so that you can move from diagnosis to treatment in a timely fashion.

Treatment -- types of treatment is a discussion between you and your physician. However, sometimes once you leave the office, there are many questions which arise or family asks that you don't know the answer to. The nurse navigator can often review treatment options and answer those questions. Since the nurse navigator is trained in cancer, she can discuss potential side effects and what you could expect during your treatment.

Barriers to your care you may have an issue with driving to your cancer treatment, the nurse navigator can help arrange transportation assistance or provide you with the tools to arrange this yourself. Maybe there is a financial concern, which the nurse navigator can help you with or help to relieve the financial concerns by working with agencies and you. Sometimes the barrier is simply understanding the diagnosis and treatment, which the nurse navigator can help you and your family understand.

To sum up, the value of a nurse navigator is being available to help you move through your cancer diagnosis through medical expertise and also as a support person to you and your family. Your physician does a great job, but sometimes you as a patient are hesitant to ask questions because you know the physician is so busy. The nurse navigator is that support person of whom you can ask your questions, and if the answer is unknown, then the nurse navigator will coordinate with your physician to get you the answers to your questions or concerns.

The nurse navigator is another valuable team member in the complex world of cancer.

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