UNC Health Talk

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Day of a Navigator

Below is a composite representation of ‘A Day in the Life’ of Rex Cancer Center’s three breast cancer navigators. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and they have Breast Cancer Awareness Days, every day.

It’s early. The drive to Rex at 5:30 a.m. is quiet. With the change of seasons, daylight trickles in later and I don’t see the sunrise. But I will have a chance to be outside when I drive over to the Breast Care Center this afternoon.

Woman with a Nurse, holding hands
Helping hands from one who has been down the same path

As I reviewed today’s surgery schedule before leaving yesterday, I recognized some of the names: women I talked with when they received their biopsy results; others I met during pre-op admissions; two whose cancer has recurred that I navigated several years ago. An RN by training, I will be their navigator in the days ahead.

I walk (always in comfortable shoes) into the navigation office, put on my lab coat, gather the schedule and head to pre-op at the other end of the hospital where three patients are being prepped for various procedures. It’s 6:30 a.m. Later in the morning, other breast patients will arrive. All will likely have had a sleepless night and are here with worried loved ones who are attentive and anxious.

We talk about their anxiety and their delight in ‘getting it done.’ Others lay silent and watchful. I talk with medical staff and then back with the patients about logistics, what to expect and the time needed for various procedures. Caregivers want to know ‘how long’ so that they can phone, text or Skype friends and family.

pillows for post-op comfort
Pillows for post-op comfort.

I return to the navigation office and pick up beautiful bags and pillows that volunteers have made. I give them to post-surgery patients who use the pillows to rest their arms, shield their surgery site and as a cushion between the seat belt and their chest on the way home.

The morning whirls by with follow-ups from yesterday’s surgeries and phone calls from physicians, staff, patients and caregivers. I may go by the cafeteria for lunch but it’s more likely that a yogurt brought from home will be easier between tasks.

Breast biopsy results are shared with patients by the radiologist at the new Breast Care Center. I try to be there for each of them. I meet with a man reeling from newly diagnosed breast cancer and his surprised but supportive girlfriend; I meet with a mother of two young children and her recently laid-off husband; I meet with a woman in her 50’s who ‘sort of knew it was coming’ because of an extensive history of breast cancer in her family.

The day winds down as I drive back to the hospital to check on afternoon patients, talk with their loved ones and begin to think about tomorrow. Charting and phone calls and multidisciplinary conference preparation remain. The conference brings together medical and radiation oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, breast reconstruction specialists and support services to discuss upcoming patients.

I head home as twilight fades into night. I am proud to be part of a respected team of dedicated professionals who create excellent treatment plans for our breast cancer patients.

Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon
Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon