My Life as a Nurse Navigator

Before becoming a nurse navigator, I was a patient myself forging my own personal journey with breast cancer. One of the individuals who helped me was a woman who shared some of her own personal experience with me during a preoperative scheduling appointment - she had also chosen breast surgery.

Being a nurse, having worked in the field for years, I know now it's different when you realize you'll be the one undergoing treatment. However, she understood what I was going through, and she came to see me while I was waiting for the results of my surgery.

She said, "I know you're anxious but we're here for you. Whatever news you get, you can feel good about what you've done so far."

That day was 17 years ago, and at the time, there wasn't as much available in the formal role of navigation.

How a Nurse Navigator Influences the Approach to Care

At MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute, the nurse navigator is like a lighthouse showing people how to avoid rocks in a vast ocean. Not only am I able to tailor the care to my patient's needs, it's satisfying when I am able to link someone to a resource they didn't know was available. For me, a big part of the satisfaction is having patients know I'm not just there for the good times.

It can be a great comfort for our patients to know there are people who can hear those scary things you're worried about; it's okay to have that conversation. Even the people you love, like family members who are close to you, don't always know what to say.

And then there are those rewarding moments when a patient comes back to me with fantastic news. "I thought I might never walk again, but I'm walking now!"

What I Wish the Public Knew About Nurse Navigators

I think we're still helping people to understand the role of a nurse navigator. In fact, a lot of people — unless someone points them to it — don't even know such positions exist.

Nurse navigators have a great base of knowledge around the standard of care. They can help explain the big picture and the questions that arise. We try to get out in the community as many times as we can, at the level of prevention or early detection. We're there so patients can see and experience what navigation could mean for them.

Empowering People With the Knowledge They Need

My role is all about making sure the patient realizes the support that is available to them early on and across the team — even for the very first suspicious finding. We help to clarify what can be an overwhelming amount of information, helping people understand their specific situation to aim the right treatment plan at it.

We also educate them on how important it is to comprehend the behavior of their cancer. I often explain what cancer staging is, its importance and how easily cancer can be over- or undertreated without all of the necessary information.

I also try to give people the confidence of what's going on behind the scenes — anything they're not aware of, from their point of view. For example, letting them know that a number of specialists such as surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, and imaging specialists collaborate to develop the best plan for them. They're looking at the patient’s scans together. They're trying to determine what is best in each individual case. It’s important for me to relay that type of information back to the patient.

The navigation role is very important in helping bring people back to the big picture of quality cancer care. And the patients I see need to know what their newfound situation will mean for their lives and how can they get in control once more.

Sometimes, there are different points in someone’s cancer journey that they have to stop and reevaluate next steps. It's nice for them to know that we'll be there for every stop along the way. And when they get to their next milestone, we'll be there for them, ready to answer their questions.

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513.

Nurse Navigators Play a Critical Role in Cancer Care

Hearing a cancer diagnosis can bring on a flood of conflicting emotions. Shock, numbness, anger and confusion about your next steps. There are more than 14 million new diagnoses each year, and many patients are unsure about what to do - questions can range from how to break the news at home to what to expect during treatment.

At MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute, nurse navigators are the healthcare providers who help with those questions and support patients at every step of their cancer journey. Helping patients see the big picture and keeping track of the small details is also an essential part of the role.

Why Are Nurse Navigators Crucial to Quality Care?

When you receive a cancer diagnosis, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by your options. Surgery, medications, radiation, and other treatment options may be presented to you. A nurse navigator can help you understand your choices and provide detailed information about the behavior of a specific cancer. By understanding cancer staging and how treatment works, you can make more informed decisions about your treatment.

Every cancer treatment regimen should be tailored to fit the individual; nurse navigators explain and address that necessity. We can even provide translation services to help eliminate any language barrier, should the need arise. And if making appointments is tough, transportation services might be available. Many secondary services can help you get the most out of every appointment.

During your first visit with your cancer treatment team, you get a lot of information - so much so, that it may be easy miss details, and you may have questions. That's where a nurse navigator comes in; they can help you figure out the best resource for any questions and offer suggestions about what to ask. In fact, part of the new patient process as a nurse navigator involves providing patients with valuable information, as well as potential questions to ask.

That is only the beginning of your journey, however. You may not have a lot of knowledge about cancer or what happens after treatment. Long-term surveillance is a big part of optimizing function and longevity, as well as monitoring risk of cancer recurrence. Helping you understand what to report and the support that is available at the end of treatment is a rewarding part of the role.

Nurse Navigator's Network

Navigators do more than answer questions and provide information; they also assist you in ensuring your critical records and information is available for the physician’s review prior to discussing your treatment plan. For example, you may not know what documents are most critical for a specific appointment, but a nurse navigator can help you with the scheduling and documentation needed to keep quality of care high and coordinated across the team supporting you.

As a patient resource, nurse navigators are there to traverse all disciplines and provide knowledge from a perspective inside the medical center. They help guide and shape your journey so you can make treatment decisions with all the information you need readily available.

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513.

What Is Cancer Rehabilitation and How Does It Help?

For cancer patients, and their loved ones, there is a lot focus placed on the present moment. What courses of treatment make the most sense for them? How will their diagnosis change their life? Will they need to take time off from work? Can they even plan for the future, or is their life now on hold?

But what about the unknowns that are beyond the scope of treatment administration? How will cancer patients experience potential side effects? Will they be able to resume their daily lives, unimpeded? What will their lives look like after treatment?

In short, what will their cancer rehabilitation process look like, and when should it start?

What Is Cancer Rehabilitation?

Cancer rehabilitation helps patients address many of the challenges they experience beyond the treatment of their cancer. For example, bouts of pain or fatigue when attempting to complete daily tasks, difficulty speaking or swallowing, or mobility and balance issues. And according to Eric Wisotzky, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist who directs the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network’s Cancer Rehabilitation Program, early intervention in this regard can be critical.

“We can identify issues that are likely to cause problems in the healing process and prevent many from occurring,” Dr. Wisotzky says.

The ultimate goal of cancer rehabilitation is to maximize every opportunity to enhance a patient’s ability to get back to their lives, their job, their family and their priorities. More specifically, cancer rehabilitation can help a patient gain endurance and mobility, in addition to what may feel like their lost sense of independence.

What Should a Cancer Rehabilitation Program Look Like?

The most successful cancer rehabilitation outcomes are achieved when it is integrated into both treatment and survivorship plans and include:

  • Comprehensive, interdisciplinary rehabilitation services (physiatry, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology)
  • Individualized treatment plans
  • Pretreatment assessments (if indicated) and patient education
  • Post-treatment assessment and follow up
  • Lymphedema (swelling) management services
  • Exercise and fitness programs
  • Pain management
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Prosthetics and orthotics

At the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network, the rehabilitation program may begin with a pretreatment assessment, which covers the current health status of a patient, as well as their functional needs and goals. A multidisciplinary rehabilitation team then supports patients with actionable insights to help prevent a decline in function.

After treatment, patients are closely followed for the development of functional deficits. Once identified, patients are again referred for rehabilitation services to minimize side effects of cancer treatment and to help patients continue their work, family and recreational roles.

Cancer Rehabilitation Empowers Patients

A cancer diagnosis, even with the most positive outlook, is still both emotionally and physically disruptive. However, a multidisciplinary approach that includes cancer rehabilitation can make all the difference, when it comes to improving quality of life.

Ideally, patients will come out of their cancer treatment experience with the tools to live an even healthier life than before their diagnosis. Cancer rehabilitation can be a springboard to helping patients improve their general fitness. “We can empower patients to do the things that will keep them as fit and functional as possible throughout the process and beyond,” Dr. Wisotzky says.

Through these interventions, we hope that our patients can not only survive the cancer treatment process, but thrive into the future.

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513.