Jan Fritz: Navigation vital in cancer care

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Jan Fritz is director of cancer services at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

— In the 1970s, the diagnosis of cancer was referred to as “having the big C.” Although terminology, treatment and survival rates have changed dramatically in the past four decades, the word “cancer” still provokes a variety of emotions.

I have been Yampa Valley Medical Center’s oncology director and nurse for more than 20 years. As cancer care has become ever more complex, the type of guidance I supply now is recognized by the term “patient navigation.”

Cancer is a life-changing event that affects every part of daily life. With the diagnosis come many challenges of living with a chronic disease that can be overwhelming for the individual, the family and caregivers.

The goal of patient navigation is to care for the whole person. This goes beyond treating the physical problem so that the emotional and financial needs of each patient and family can be acknowledged and addressed.

Patient navigation has proven its worth in helping patients and families who must travel through the maze of care. It takes into account the human elements as well as the medical aspects of cancer care.

How does anyone deal with all the emotions, medical jargon and financial challenges that cancer brings?

The word cancer itself can stop the flow of information being presented and received. It can be such a shock to hear the word that many people cannot comprehend what the plan is to treat the cancer. 

The vital components of patient navigation are effective communications, education and coordinating the delivery of high-quality, personalized and compassionate care. Rather than doing things to our patients, we are planning with them.

Ideally, cancer care can be customized to meet the needs of patients and families from diagnosis through the many steps of survivorship. This involves finding specific resources that will be valuable in their care.

Coordinating radiation and testing appointments, making sure all information is given to care providers, finding financial resources and talking with families all are examples of care given by the navigator.

The navigator continually sees the big picture of care needed and anticipates the transitions throughout treatment.

As an advocate, educator and counselor for the patients, a navigator can coordinate timely and compassionate care for patients. By communicating all necessary information to the health care providers, a better plan of care will be used by all to benefit the patient.

The effects of cancer treatment need to be addressed throughout time. It is imperative to have a medical maintenance plan that is well-coordinated among physicians and easily understood by the patient.

Some of the ongoing issues may include fatigue, lymphedema, anxiety, sleeplessness, “chemo brain” or mental fogginess, fears of recurrence and finding hope again. 

Navigation continues beyond cancer treatment. It helps patients move past the cancer to a new lifestyle. Regaining a sense of wholeness is important in survivorship. Insurance coverage, continued surveillance and maintaining health are top concerns.

I always have thought that patients run the ship. As caregivers and navigators, we stand by their sides to guide them through the journey of their lives.

Jan Fritz, RN, OCN, is director of cancer services at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at 970-871-2464 or janet.fritz@yvmc.org.

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