When breast cancer patients feel overwhelmed, the nurse navigators at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center step in to help.
Three nurses at the hospital are there to explain procedures, diagnoses and treatment options to patients.
Two of the nurses work with patients who get tested for breast cancer at the Breast Health Center and one works at the Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support with patients who are undergoing treatment.
Elizabeth Conway, a nurse navigator, said she thinks the program helps more patients get the treatment they need.
“We’ve had a lot of people come in and they’ll need to go get a biopsy, but they’re more concerned about paying their bills to keep the lights on than getting a biopsy,” Conway said.
That’s when a nurse navigator steps in to let the patient know about resources in the community that can help pay for a biopsy.
“We’re helping people navigate the whole system,” Conway said.
Conway and Susan Irwin meet patients who have a mammogram showing a mass in the breast that needs to be further examined through a biopsy.
“We explain to them what’s going to happen and what a biopsy is like and if they have any concerns we talk about those,” Irwin said.
Next, one of the nurse navigators will go to the biopsy with the patient.
“We’re there for them. Some patients want us to hold their hand, and others don’t. I just let them know I have an extra hand,” Irwin said.
Usually, the nurse navigator is also the person to call the patient with the news of whether the biopsy showed cancer.
Every week Conway and Irwin attend anywhere from 10 to 20 biopsy appointments with patients.
Conway said she sees herself as an educational resource for the patients, someone who can explain to them, without using medical jargon, what their diagnoses means for them.
“We encourage the patients to get support from family, friends, their community, their church,” Conway said.
The Loran Smith center offers a breast cancer support group the second Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. and the second Thursday of the month at 5:30 p.m. where patients can find encouragement.
Sandy Pyle, a nurse navigator, facilitates the groups. She visits every patient who has a mastectomy or lumpectomy.
“I offer psycho-social support to all cancer patients, not just breast cancer patients,” Pyle said.
All three of the nurse navigators work together with radiologists, surgeons and other hospital departments to determine the best way to treat each patient. The departments meet every two weeks to hold the Breast Cancer Conference.
At the meeting, doctors present information about each patient diagnosed with breast cancer since the last conference.
“It’s all anonymous for the patient, but then all the doctors can offer input and if one person knows the newest and greatest treatment option for that person they can share it,” Irwin said.
The main goal of the navigators is to be there when patients need them.
“They need someone they know is on their side, and that’s who we are,” Irwin said.
Follow reporter Hilary Butschek on Twitter @hilarylbutschek or at https://www.facebook.com/hbutschek.