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Every Step of the Way The process of Nurse Navigation

Getting a mammogram or breast ultrasound is anything but routine for women.

Especially if cancer runs in our family, or we've felt pain or a lump, we hold our breath, waiting to hear that everything is fine. So, when a woman is told the imaging revealed something suspicious and she needs a biopsy, it's a terrifying moment. "everything stops. Whatever was important before has lost its glitter," says Kathi, who had a breast biopsy earlier this year.

Rose, a two-time breast cancer survivor who also had a recent cancer scare, says when medical providers say you have - or might have - cancer, it's too frightening to process. "When you get cancer, you basically go deaf. It's just all kind of jumbled."

Fortunately, Kathi and Rose had someone both compassionate and knowledgeable by their sides:

A breast nurse navigator at Southwest Medical Imaging. SMIL is one of the few centers in the nations whose breast patient navigators are all nurses and are all certified by the National Consortium of Breast Centers. Certification requires breast navigators take an annual test and earn continuing education credits. But to be the best, breast navigators must also be kind, empathetic and patient.
One of the most important things a breast navigator provides is education. "Through education, I can empower them, and then they can make good decisions themselves and ask questions that they might not have known to ask, "says Barbara Ginn, RN, a breast navigator at SMIL.

"An educated patient is a calmer patient," adds Denise Joesten, RN, another SMIL breast navigator. The navigator explains why a biopsy is recommended and what to expect from the procedure. They schedule the biopsy and give the woman their phone number, so she can call anytime with questions. "It gives them a sense of assurance," Joesten says.

"It's almost like having a friend going through something you've been through, and you can call that person whenever you're feeling stressed about it."

Oftentimes, the navigators help with the biopsy and keeps the woman calm and comfortable. Frequently, providers ask the navigator to communicate the results of the biopsy. If it's malignant, the navigator explains what kind of breast cancer the woman has, shows her the size of the tumor, and discusses how quickly the tumor is growing and whether it's hormone receptive. They do not recommend specific treatments but inform the woman bout the various options her physician might recommend. They also know about the various all the local resources the woman may need now and, in the future, such as support groups, counseling for patients and caregivers, nutrition classes and specialty care products.

"One of the great benefits of what I can do for them is if we need an hour to talk, we can have an hour," Ginn says. "It's in an uninterrupted room where if they want to cry or laugh or scream or what they want to do, they are free and not judged by what they do in this room."

"So many times, the medical field is so impersonal; they get personalized care here with us," says Pam Turgeon, RN, another breast navigator at SMIL. She says that's especially important for breast patients, because every woman knows someone who's had breast cancer or has passed away from cancer. "It's an emotional, traumatic experience for most women. So we just really try to love on our patients and be a comfort for them."

Kathi says het SMIL navigator was "absolutely marvelous. She was kind and sympathetic. And kindness is just so important when you're in a vulnerable stage, just everything about her was perfect." After Kathi found out her tumor was benign, she brought her navigator flowers.

Rose says she also made a connection with her SMIL navigator. "She was a doll. She just made me feel better." After rose's scare, when she found out she was still cancer-free, her navigator asked if there was anything else she could do for her. "I said, 'Yeah, give me a hug.' She was just so nice. I felt like I made a friend that day."

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