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Patient Navigators

A person learning of and living with cancer is on a journey – and not one to take alone. Patients at Meritus Medical Center’s John R. Marsh Cancer Center have one of four clinical nurse navigators to walk their path alongside them.

Navigators reach patients right where they are.

Corey Thomas, B.S.N., RN, OCN, clinical navigator at the John R. Marsh Cancer Center, says that navigators are most often connected to the patients right after a diagnosis, but can get involved anywhere along the continuum of care. “We make a direct connection to the patient, offer our phone number and email address and become the single point of contact for questions, concerns, appointments and other needs.”

The four clinical navigators currently on the team at the cancer center are all registered nurses and together have many years of experience in bedside care including oncology, emergency medicine, care management and hospice services. Each navigator focuses on one or more common cancer diagnoses in our region – breast cancer, lung cancer, gynecologic and gastrointestinal cancers, lymphoma, skin cancer and diseases of the head, neck and throat.

Setting expectations.

When patients receive a cancer diagnosis and after the initial emotions surface, there are often many questions that need answering.

“Although everyone’s cancer journey is individual, many people experience a lot of the same fears and appreciate having that one person who they can go to with questions – questions about what to expect after surgery or how treatment will make them feel or what foods should be included in their diet that won’t upset their stomachs,” says Thomas. “Education is a large part of what we offer. This is the role the navigator plays.”

Thomas says that many questions come from family members of the patient who will help with caretaking – picking up prescriptions, cooking meals, offering comfort. “We are there for the families of our patients as well, since a cancer diagnosis affects so many people around the patient too,” says Thomas.

Access to support.

The clinical navigator is part of a patient’s health care team at Meritus Medical Center’s John R. Marsh Cancer Center. Thomas says that she can help educate patients on support services available from experts on that team – dietitians, pharmacists, social workers and rehabilitation therapists. “Our cancer care services don’t start at diagnosis and end at treatment,” says Thomas. “We may reach a patient when he/she is going through secondary screenings to confirm the diagnosis and still be a part of that patient’s life when he/she reaches survivorship and would like to be part of a support group in the community.”

“It really is about growing a relationship with the patients,” says Thomas. “A cancer journey is such a vulnerable place to be and yet they welcome us in, are emotional with us and often want to connect with us about things other than cancer.”

Thomas remembers one couple who insisted that she had to see a particular movie that had come out. Well after it was out of the theatres, she still hadn’t seen it and when crossing paths again with the couple, was reminded that she just had to! “It was just a movie they loved and they wanted me to share in that experience,” says Thomas.

Have those screenings.

Thomas believes that a navigator must be a good listener, a good communicator and a compassionate person. If she could offer one piece of advice to those in fear of a cancer diagnosis it would be to get recommended cancer screenings. “Many common cancers are curable if caught early enough,” says Thomas. “Please have a conversation with your primary care provider and gynecologist to find out if you may be at risk for cancer and what screenings are recommended and available for you to have, and have now.”

Meritus Health, at 11116 Medical Campus Road, east of Hagerstown, is the largest health system in the area, providing hospital and outpatient services to the community. Subscribe to Your Health Matters, a monthly e-newsletter with important health information, at meritushealth.com/Your-Health-Matters.

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