Healthcare Tips

Round-the-Clock Resource: How Nurse Navigators Help Patients Through Cancer Treatment

May 28, 2021

When you’re in a fight against cancer, waiting for someone to return your voicemail can leave you feeling abandoned and helpless. Thanks to the nurse navigators at Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center, patients at Hancock Health never have to wait long, no matter when they call. 

“We’re just constantly in contact,” nurse navigator Sherry Lawrence said of her patients. “They have my cell phone and they can call me. They can email me. We spend a lot of time with them, and we get to know them well.”

That quick response meant the world to Catherine Custer, a mother of two who is undergoing  treatment for stage IV colon cancer with Hancock Health. 

“There are lots of evenings when things go wrong,” she said. “I’ll send an email just to say ‘Hey, this is going on,’ and they always get right back to me. It’s so reassuring.”

“My job is to make sure the patient has coordinated care from the very beginning,” Sherry said. “Not everyone has a medical person in their life. It’s my calling to help people understand and get the answers they need.” 

After 20 years as a nurse within a surgery department, Sherry was ready for a change. Her friend Linda Holliday, oncology clinical manager at Hancock Health, suggested she consider oncology. “The first six months were overwhelming,” she admits. “But I soon realized this is where I was meant to be.” 

With You Every Step of the Journey

Over the last seven years, Sherry has helped hundreds of patients complete their journey through cancer treatment. A navigator is with the patient to take notes during their first consultation with the oncologist, and they’re the ones who provide the patient with a complete report of every service they received at the end of their treatment.

There’s no problem too big or too small for the navigators.

“If there are resources our patients need, we can help with that,” Sherry said. “Maybe they need money for gas so they can get to an appointment. We have a fund that we started. It’s called the Jimmy Fund. If a patient needs an antibiotic or something small and they can’t afford it, we give them money to go get that particular medication. I think patients come in here sometimes and don’t realize there’s someone here they can depend on.”

Navigators will even occasionally attend doctors’ appointments unrelated to a patient’s cancer treatment. “We have gone to other appointments with patients, because they don’t have someone who can go with them to understand what that provider is doing,” Sherry said. “The surgery office doesn’t have a nurse navigator. The orthopedic office doesn’t have a nurse navigator. So it’s kind of a hospital-wide collaboration for us.” 

Paul Litten, a 77-year-old patient fighting pancreatic cancer, gets emotional when he talks about the attention to detail the cancer team at Hancock Health provides.

“If you’ve got a question, no matter how small or stupid, they’ll come and sit down and go through everything with you,” he said. “Even the littlest things. It’s just how you’re treated as a patient here, which is super. I don’t know how else to put it. I can’t think of anything better.” 

Going through cancer isn’t easy. But with navigators like Sherry here to help patients understand every aspect of their treatment, they can focus on the only thing that matters: bringing as much strength and courage to this fight as they possibly can.