Nurse Mary Keefe has observed nearly every reaction to a cancer diagnosis; some patients break down in uncontrollable tears, others glaze over stoically and many experience a surreal shock. No matter the response, when the radiologist leaves the room after presenting the results, Keefe remains with the patient and their new diagnosis. She educates and answers questions for as long as the patient needs – usually between one and two hours during the initial visit – and then stays attentive and accessible throughout further tests, surgery, treatments and beyond.
Keefe has served as one of six cancer navigators at Charlotte’s Presbyterian Cancer Center since the program’s infancy more than five years ago. Cancer navigators act as patients’ anchors through the sometimes stormy cancer journey by serving as advocates, coordinators, supporters and experienced guides.
Within the next three months, Presbyterian Hospital Matthews and Presbyterian Hospital Huntersville will also offer on-site, personal cancer navigators.
“Our navigators at Matthews and Huntersville will be well-rounded medical experts who have a lot of experience with all types of cancer and cancer sites,” Keefe, a Matthews resident, said. “It’s nice for patients to have someone with medical knowledge that’s accessible, responsive and trying to make this difficult thing as easy as possible.”
In addition to thoroughly explaining the diagnosis and all possible treatment options, navigators can link patients to beneficial community resources, financial assistance and psychosocial support; they also expedite care, and offer patients a personal medical expert.
“Instead of getting a phone call to hear they have breast cancer and that they need to see a surgeon at an appointment in two weeks, we can explain it in person, answer questions, have an appointment with a surgeon pre-scheduled for within 48 hours, and give them a comprehensive book with specific selections to read in preparation for their appointments,” Keefe said. “We give very good information right at the time of diagnosis; it’s much better than looking for answers on the Internet.”
Once the diagnosis settles in, navigators cheer patients on with their understanding, familiar presence and constant support.
“We’re their coach. We’re preparing patients for each step; telling them what to expect, and encouraging them as they go,” Keefe said. “We’re there before and after surgery, we stop by if they’re having tests in the hospital, and we hear how appointments went. We’re there from the initial appointment and throughout treatment, and we remain in contact months after.” Call a cancer patient navigator: 704-384-5373. For more information on cancer services available at Presbyterian, visit www.presbyterian.org/cancer.