You and Your Nurse Navigator During Chemo Treatment

By Francesca Di Meglio
Reviewed by Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS

Nurse navigators are among the greatest supporters and advocates of people with cancer. Once known as case managers, nurse navigators are charged with helping you overcome obstacles to your care, such as needing transportation to treatments or finding a bed when hospitalization is necessary. Essentially, nurse navigators help you with everything from the practical (helping arrange transportation for you on the day of your treatment) to the emotional (giving support if you don’t want to tell your family and friends about your treatment).

Usually, the hospital or medical center assigns you a nurse navigator. But you can establish the type of relationship you’d like to have with them right from the start—and getting these questions answered is a good beginning:

Can you explain your role in my cancer care?
Oncology nurse navigators aim to offer whatever help you need to have your care delivered completely and effectively, says Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, director for the John Hopkins Breast Center and administrative director of the Cancer Survivorship Programs at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. For starters, they’ll determine if anything may impede you from getting the right care at the right time delivered in the right way. For example, they can refer you to experts who can help you navigate insurance to determine what’s covered and what isn’t. The navigator also educates you on your treatment options. The navigator is key to keeping your care coordinated, too. “We shouldn’t be doing treatment to a patient,” says Shockney. “We should be doing treatment with a patient.”

How often will I see or hear from you?
Some patients prefer to know every detail, and others are happier letting the oncology nurse navigator call them after they’ve resolved a problem. “People will say, ‘I loved my navigator,’” says Shockney, author of Becoming a Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator (Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2009). “But they might not be able to tell you what the nurse navigator did.” So discuss with your navigator how often you’d like to be in touch and how much you’d like to be involved.  

When should I contact you?
Before tests and treatments begin, learn about the navigator’s limits. For instance, Shockney explains to people that she’s minimally involved in clinical care. So if you’re running a fever, call your oncologist first, because they have the expertise to deal with this kind of problem. The nurse navigator is not the point person for everything, which is why you should find out the appropriate time to contact them.

How can I facilitate our relationship?
The relationship is a two-way street. For oncology nurse navigators to do their job, says Shockney, you need to be forthcoming. Ask your navigator what they need from you. Tell them if you can’t afford certain treatments, have no more sick days at work or haven’t told friends and family about your chemotherapy. “You need to be honest and candid with oncology nurse navigators,” says Shockney. “They won’t be able to help you to the best of their abilities otherwise.”

Published March 2014

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