Monday, June 13, 2016


Traveling the road together with a nurse navigator

“What the heck is a nurse navigator?” I’ve probably heard this question dozens of times since returning to Backus Hospital’s Cancer Institute as an oncology nurse navigator. I like to compare it to being a travel guide. When’s the last time you took a road trip through uncharted terrain? Did it go smoothly or did you have to seek help, whether from an experienced guide, a map, or the Internet? Did you hit any detours? Get a flat tire? Get hopelessly lost? Wish you had planned things differently?

As any patient will tell you, the cancer experience — from diagnosis to treatment to recovery — is a journey in and of itself. With our complicated healthcare system, it’s easy to get lost. That’s where a nurse navigator comes in. Whether it’s questions about your cancer type and treatment, how to talk to your doctors, where to get emotional or financial support, or how to deal with treatment side effects, I like to tell my patients that no question is too big or small — just ask. I will either have the answer or more importantly (and more likely), know how to get it.

Each branch of Hartford HealthCare’s Cancer Institute — which includes campuses at Backus Hospital, Windham Hospital, the Hospital of Central Connecticut, Hartford Hospital and MidState Medical Center — has dedicated oncology nurse navigators to help cancer patients. I reached out to my counterpart at Windham Hospital, Lori Surber, RN, BSN, to see what she had to say about her nursing role. Lori has been an oncology nurse navigator for four years.

“I reach out to patients right from their moment of diagnosis. Then I work with the healthcare team to get them from one step to the next. The best advice I can give to patients is to take one step at a time. Don’t look too far down the road,” she says.

What’s the most rewarding part of being a nurse navigator?

“Making a difference in someone’s life every day. Knowing you made the road a little easier for someone going through cancer is so rewarding,” Lori says.

I couldn’t agree more.

Here are the last 10 questions I have answered as a navigator:

• What does my pathology report really mean?
• Why is my doctor talking about taking an anti-hormone pill for five years?
• Will I be totally sedated for my biopsy?
• Should I be “freaking out” if my doctor mentions chemo?
• How can I coordinate my chemo and radiation so I’m not driving back and forth all day?
• How can I be considered for a clinical trial?
• Do you have any support groups for cancer patients?
• Am I allowed to have cats while on chemo?
• How can I reduce stress and anxiety during treatment?
• My doctor hasn’t called me back with my results, what should I do?

If you or a loved one are coping with cancer and need a little extra guidance and support, please contact your oncology nurse navigator. Working together, we can make your journey through cancer a smoother ride. I can be reached at Backus Hospital at 860-425-3870. For Lori Surber at Windham Hospital, call 860-456-6952. Let’s travel the road together.

Jessica Vanase is the Backus Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Vanase or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?