In an instant everything you know and are sure of suddenly disappears in a fog of fear and uncertainty. Last week’s grocery list or next week’s soccer game falls into a new perspective. All of sudden little chores like dirty windows or uncut grass no longer matter as you find yourself facing new concerns such as chemotherapy, radiation and insurance benefits.
A cancer diagnosis is alarming and confusing, but thanks to the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Patient Navigator Program there is guidance and help for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers.
“The Patient Navigator Program is here to help navigate patients and families through the cancer experience,” said Polly Johnson, Patient Navigator for the East Central Division of the ACS. “Having someone to help deal with medical, financial and social concerns can even help the patient conserve energy and allow them to more strongly confront the cancer that has already changed their life.”
According to Johnson, these navigators are in place to help everyone, regardless of where they are in their cancer journey and having an outside source to offer assistance can lighten the heavy load patients and families are already facing.
“For cancer patients, this allows them to focus more on getting better, and to be less concerned about other things,” she added. “It really is a great asset for patients and families because it puts resources and knowledge at their fingertips and gives them an actual person, a navigator to guide them through the many facets of cancer and treatments.”
The Patient Navigator pilot program was started in Mahoning County in 2001 to help cancer patients navigate the systems they faced as they battled their cancer. This included medical, financial, insurance, social and support systems. Today the program consists of 16 patient navigators that provide support for patients in all 88 Ohio counties. These individuals are ready and waiting to be of assistance to any Ohioan that contacts them.
“American Cancer Society Patient Navigators have been strategically located in areas of Ohio that demonstrate the greatest need,” Johnson said. “Navigators receive referrals through society offices, the society call center, the facility in which they are located, medical facilities, other community-based groups and word-of-mouth.”
There are several short-term outcomes or goals of the Patient Navigator program, including greater access to information for cancer patients, families and caregivers and trained staff available to assist cancer patients and families in handling financial, medical and insurance concerns as well as physical, psychological and social issues surrounding cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. In addition there are long-term outcomes as well. The long-term goals of the program include an improved quality of life for cancer patients, families and caregivers from the time of diagnosis, through treatment, into survivorship, an increased compliance in treatment and follow-up care due to a greater understanding of issues and an easier time in navigating the medical, financial and insurance systems.
“Patient navigators can also help a cancer patient, survivor or caregiver by helping to identify resources for financial assistance, medication needs, home health care, insurance questions, transportation and other concerns,” Johnson said. “They may also help by referring people to support groups, classes and other programs for information and support and even by providing literature on coping with cancer, what to expect during chemotherapy and radiation and dealing with side effects of treatment. These trained navigators can identify activities that can help ensure a better quality of life and are there to listen, care and help in that time of need.”
Johnson said that when someone is diagnosed with cancer, they often feel like their choices have been taken away and that they are losing control of their lives. The navigators guide them and give them options that will work, so they feel reassured and in control again.
“The Patient Navigator program is a collaborative program between the American Cancer Society and partners such as hospitals and cancer centers around the state of Ohio,” Johnson added. “This community-based partnership allows outreach to those most in need during the cancer experience.”
To locate the Patient Navigator in your area, call the American Cancer Society at 888-227-6446. These trained individuals are there to help and can be a great asset and relief during a difficult time.
Published: October 12, 2011