“You have cancer.” Three words you never want to hear, and yet are heard far too often. It can be a scary and daunting diagnosis, but for people like Debby Byrnes (pictured above, center), nurse navigators can make all the difference.
“We knew the gravity of the situation, yet what we were looking for was the hope within the situation and moving forward in a hopeful way,” Debby recalls.
Debby was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer in the fall of 2016.
“Truthfully, they did not think I would make it through the first year,” she shares. “But here I am, going into my sixth year. So, I call them my guardian angels.”
The “them” she refers to are her care team at the Bon Secours St. Francis Cancer Center, including her nurse navigator Sarah Batson (pictured above, left).
“We take a lot of pride in being good at what we do and striving to give excellent patient care,” Sarah says, who is a breast cancer survivor herself. “It’s such an emotional diagnosis and going through it myself has made me a better navigator. I love my patients and am so privileged to walk with them through this journey.”
Nurse navigators are exactly what they sound like – nurses who help patients navigate through their care. They can help address any barriers to care and assist in other ways – reminding patients of appointments, explaining medications and answering other questions.
“I could always reach Sarah at the end of a text or a phone call, because in those initial stages of the diagnosis there was a lot of testing and appointments and information,” Debby shares. “I wasn’t new to hospital systems, but I was new to Bon Secours and that’s where Sarah as a navigator worked like a charm. She was always there to help me through.”
Understanding the treatment process is only half the battle, with the financial challenges sometimes becoming a burden in their own right.
“This is probably one of the scariest things people can face – I mean, Warren Buffett wouldn’t even pay some of these bills,” Debbie says. “They are of huge magnitude, so you have to have someone give you a little hope and direction on how these things are going to get taken care of.”
Someone like Dionne Pringle, a financial navigator at the Bon Secours St. Francis Cancer Center. Her goal is to help patients find sources of funding – which can range from co-pay cards to grant money and even medication discounts – that will reduce the amount of money that has to be paid out of pocket.
“Even though a patient is insured, their out-of-pocket costs can still be enormous if there’s co-pay. We help mitigate that,” Dionne explains. “The fear of the financial aspect of treatment can paralyze people or make them think they can’t afford it, but we’re here to make sure everybody who walks through the door is financially navigated. We can help you stay informed about what to expect but also open the door to opportunities for financial assistance that you may not even realize are available. We want to do whatever is necessary to help lower the cost.”
Oncology isn’t the only department where patients can benefit from nurse and financial navigators. They’re located throughout our health system to help guide you through your care journey – no matter which illness or injury you may be facing.