A breast cancer diagnosis comes as a shock. Women are forced to make an abrupt transition from thinking “I’m well” one day to being told “you’re sick” the next, with new and difficult concepts to understand, tough decisions to make and lots of stress to manage. One thing that can help is having a trusted person to provide compassionate listening, advocacy through the medical system, and emotional support; in short, a navigator. Navigators do not make decisions for the patient, but they help them gather the information they need to make their own decisions and can connect patients to other services, providing assistance and acting as a liaison as needed.
“A patient once told me that a breast cancer diagnosis is like being dropped from a plane into a foreign country without a map,” says Kathleen Colloton, R.N., W.H.N.P., one of the navigators with Alta Bates Summit’s Carol Ann Read Breast Health Center. The program assists newly diagnosed patients and plays a critical role at a crucial time in patients’ lives. “Newly diagnosed women are often confused and worried,” says Kathleen, “so we try to contact them as soon as possible, to ease their anxieties, answer questions and clear up misperceptions.” This contact is made by the program’s staff “navigators” who speak English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Korean, and they are proactive about reaching the diverse population of newly diagnosed women in the community.
In their roles, Kathleen and the navigators make suggestions to help patients communicate with doctors (“bring a tape recorder to your doctor appointments,” she encourages), prepare for surgery (“exercise, eat well and reduce stress”), and get emotional backup (“we offer support groups and a peer advocacy program”). The navigators act as compassionate coaches, explaining courses of treatment and available resources. But, above all, we listen. “We let them tell us how they are feeling,” she says, “and we reassure them.”
For more information on the breast navigator program at the Carol Ann Read Breast Health Center, call Kathleen Colloton at (510) 869-6628.