Don’t navigate through cancer alone

January 19, 2021
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Processing the news of a breast cancer diagnosis is difficult and not something that should be done alone. In this time of distress and fear, you can turn to your friends, family, and loved ones, but you can also turn to an oncology nurse or patient navigator. While your world is being turned upside down by cancer, your oncology navigator will remain a constant and guide you through the uncertainty.

At the 2018 Biden Cancer Summit in Washington, D.C., Joe Biden, the future president, emphasized the need for navigators to assist people with cancer in finding resources during treatment and throughout survivorship. Oncology navigators provide assistance to people in medical care and their families, to help overcome healthcare system barriers and make it easier to access care through all phases of the cancer experience.

What does an oncology navigator do?

Your family caregiver and loved ones are great support, but they won’t be able to provide you everything you need during your breast cancer treatment. Your oncology navigator can join forces with your caregiver and support network of loved ones to ensure all of your needs are met. From diagnosis to treatment to survivorship, your navigator will help you overcome any barriers while giving you access to quality medical and psychosocial care. They will travel with you through the complexities of the healthcare system and the financial aspects of care, and will be a shoulder to lean on as they take on the role of the primary point of contact for other members of your cancer care team.

At another cancer conference, Jill Biden, EdD, now first lady of the United States, talked to the dedication of navigators to their patients:

“When I think about people who are really changing lives ... I think about people like you. Nurses and navigators and those who show up every single day, around the clock, for people who need you most,” said Dr. Biden as the keynote speaker of the Ninth Annual Navigation & Survivorship Conference, hosted by the Academy of Oncology Nurse and Patient Navigators (AONN+).

In addition to educational conferences, AONN+ provides your navigator with opportunities for continuing education, new resources and tools, and the ability to connect with other navigators who may be experiencing similar problems to the ones you are facing in your care, providing a multifaceted approach to your treatment. Many oncology and patient navigators regularly turn to AONN+ to help overcome any barriers their patient is facing in order to provide you the best care possible.

What kind of navigator do I need?

Patient navigators have a strong background knowledge of cancer care and work within the healthcare system to decrease barriers to care, provide you educational resources, and offer consistent support to you as the patient, and to your family. Nurse navigators are trained in the application of clinical information and can help identify the appropriate treatment route. This person has the appropriate medical background needed to ensure you get the best care, and they are a critical member of your cancer team. Oncology financial navigators help people understand their medical insurance as well as what other resources are available to help pay for care.

Everyone’s barriers to care can be different. Some may face language or education barriers, some may face financial toxicity, and others may face complicated treatment decisions that require a lot of thought and education, such as considering a clinical trial. Choosing to do a clinical trial can come with questions that an oncology navigator will be able to answer. Your navigator will help you qualify for the trial and prepare you for what to expect with this kind of treatment.

What resources are available to me?

To better connect with your navigator, you both can turn to CONQUER: the patient voice. CONQUER magazine resources include feature articles written by and for people with cancer, survivors, nurse navigators, and other oncology team members. CONQUER magazine was started by AONN+ to address the issues that people getting care, their family members, and caregivers face every day in an easy-to-read format. Issues include personal stories, information on access to care, and articles on lifestyle topics such as nutrition, stress management, personal finance, and legal and employer issues.

A support system is one of the most important tools someone with cancer can equip themselves with and you don’t have to face your diagnosis alone. Speak with your oncologist to create a plan for adding an oncology navigator to your cancer care team. Wherever your breast cancer care leads you, your oncology navigator will follow and ensure you are taking the right steps for the best possible outcome. 


If you are an oncology nurse or patient navigator, or coordinate care for patients with cancer, join us as an AONN+ member! AONN+ is the only professional organization dedicated to promoting the role of oncology nurse and patient navigators in the cancer care continuum. Join now: https://aonnonline.org/membership.

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