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The Voice of the Black Community


Navigate cancer battle with personal advocacy
Nurses provide support and advice
Published Wednesday, August 9, 2017 12:24 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Cancer nurse navigators help patients negotiate treatment and quality of life throughout their battle with the disease.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles on cancer as part of The Post’s “Racing Against Cancer” initiative to raise awareness of the disease and its impact.

A cancer nurse navigator is a patient’s person.

From the moment an individual receives a cancer diagnosis, his or her life changes. Well-intentioned family, friends and doctors come and go, but a navigator guides them through.

“When they’re first diagnosed, that’s when I love to meet them, because a lot of times, when patients go to the doctor—hopefully they have somebody with them—but they hear that word, ‘you have this kind of cancer,’ pretty much after that they really don’t hear a lot of what the oncologist or surgeon has told them,” said Alesia Brown, cancer nurse navigator at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. “That is where we come in.”

For patients like John Scott Mason, these nurses play a pivotal role.

Determined free of Squamous Cell Carcinoma last month after being diagnosed in November, Mason knows the value of cancer nurse navigators. Mason underwent seven weeks of chemotherapy—approximately eight hours per session—as well as daily radiation.

“I could tell how much they cared about me,” said Mason, a Charlotte native who was raised in Druid Hills. “When it was time for my treatment, they showed a lot of love. There are people who will do a job just because they have to do it in order to get paid. I really think, with the heart that they have, they would actually do the job even if they weren’t getting paid. The attention that they gave me—if you could rate it on a scale of one to 10, it would be off the chart. They made sure I was comfortable. If I had any type of pain, they wanted to address that right up front. Everything that needed to be done for me, they actually did it with no problem at all.”

Nurses like Brown are instrumental during a patient’s cancer journey.

“We are responsible for being with the patient throughout their whole cancer care continuum—from diagnosis until survivorship or end of life,” she said. “Usually it is a nurse that has a background in oncology. Myself and my coworkers, we’ve all been in oncology. I have 16 years in oncology. Some folks have 30.”

Working in multidisciplinary cancer care, Brown’s role with patients goes beyond charts and numbers.  

“I make sure when I introduce myself to my patient, I let them know that we all work together as a team to help them, which is good for them to know, and they depend on that,” Brown said. “Every navigator is different in some way depending on the patient and the tumor site that they take care of. I was hired as a general navigator. Prior to that I was the nurse manager of the impatient oncology unit.”

Working primarily with blood, head and neck cancers, Brown wants to be sure her patients comprehend their cancer.

“Just to tell them ‘what is lymphoma? How do you get lymphoma?’” Brown said. “Just to tell them about their cells and what they do, and then talk about the treatment that the doctor is planning to give them. I help with the chemo teaching.”

Based on the relationships that form, patients may feel more inclined to open up to a navigator instead of the physician.

“They tend to tell us things that they might not say to the doctor, or the doctor will tell them something, and they’ll call me and say ‘this is what he said in my visit today. I don’t quite understand,’” Brown said. “I help break it down for them a little bit more so that they can understand.”

The Post has set up a Go Fund Me page for donors to contribute directly to the American Cancer Society:


Another excellent article in this series!
Posted on August 9, 2017

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