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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Spotlight

In October we mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month. At the San, we have a well-established multidisciplinary team of breast cancer doctors, nurses and health care professionals who are committed to ensuring patients have a positive experience with positive outcomes. 

For over 15 years, Sydney Adventist Hospital’s breast cancer navigators have been an integral part of that team. They are there to support patients through all stages of care, beginning with diagnosis. 

We spoke to our breast cancer patient navigators Alison (second from right), Mary (second from left), Kate (far right) and Victoria (not pictured) to find out more about them, and the important role they play. 

How long have you been in the role? 

"I’ve been working as a breast cancer patient navigator for 15 years in total." (Alison)

"I’ve been in my role for nearly 18 months now." (Kate)

"I have been in my role for almost 3 years." (Victoria)

"I recently joined the navigator team three months ago." (Mary)

What inspires you about what you do?

"For me, it’s the courage and perseverance of the individual patients I work with, and the desire of the multi-disciplinary team to drive best outcomes for all patients through their commitment to improving and attaining better outcomes." (Alison)

"Personally for me, I have the privilege of supporting beautiful patients, and it is their spirit that inspires me, along with the commitment and the passion of my team of colleagues I work alongside." (Kate)

"I always enjoy coming into work despite the emotional aspects to oncology nursing. I always felt that I entered the correct profession and feel grateful that I can be there for patients during a difficult period of their life." (Victoria)

"The thing that inspires me most about this role is being witness to the strength of each individual patient. Many of the patients are juggling family life, motherhood and work whilst undergoing treatment. Despite side effects of the treatment, the ladies are determined to do what they need to do to ensure they beat the disease. 

It is also inspiring to see the dedication of the cancer support multi-disciplinary team in assisting each of these women through their journey and working towards the common goal of achieving the best possible outcome for each patient." (Mary)

What have you learnt from the job?

"To value each patient that comes across my path, that they will have their own unique way for dealing with the stresses of a cancer diagnosis. We are there to support, educate, encourage, and listen as they go through treatments, working through issues as they arrive to help them attain their best outcomes." (Alison)

"It is a calling, more than a job. Each person has a different story, and my involvement can look unique within each story." (Kate)

"That all patients handle their cancer diagnosis differently and each woman may require a different level of support." (Victoria)

"I have learnt that it takes a multi-disciplinary approach to treat breast cancer. Each person plays an important role in achieving the best outcome for the patient." (Mary)

What is the best part of your job?

"Celebrating the little wins along the way, walking the journey of a difficult time in a person’s life and seeing them come through empowered, being able to give them time and being a listening ear in difficult times." (Alison)

"My absolute favourite part of this role is the continuity of care I have with the patients. Whether they are at home, or in hospital, I get to build rapport and a relationship that encourages trust and gives them a sense of peace that they have someone to call during the uncertainty that they are facing. Every day looks so different – it could be helping a patient process the news of a shock diagnosis, advocating and communicating on their behalf within complex cases, to finding accommodation and support for family members, to educating and helping patients navigate the hospital system … It is a privilege to be able to support the whole family throughout what is a very difficult time." (Kate)

"I feel it valuable being able to be there for woman at a vulnerable part of their life. When they are told they need an urgent biopsy, patients can think the worst and their world temporarily comes crashing down. I can be there to ensure they take in all necessary information and reiterate that I am a phone call away to clarify details of their care. I ensure they receive all support they need during the diagnosis stage of their journey. I thoroughly enjoy following their cancer journey and seeing patients return to our department for follow up progress scans, pre-operative procedures, and for annual screening a year after their diagnosis. I love being contacted when patients just need someone to converse with that knows their story." (Victoria)

"The best part of this job is getting to know the patients and their families/support network. This role allows for continuity of care over the duration of the patients’ journey. The fostering of this relationship enables patients to reach out when they feel most vulnerable. It is very rewarding to be able to refer patients to services or help implement strategies that lighten their stress or anxiety and to witness how this positively impacts their  mental and physical wellbeing." (Mary)

Why is your role so important to a patients care?

"We are able to individualise patient care, really have time to listen, we follow through the whole continuum of their treatments, being an umbrella throughout the whole journey building a professional relationship of trust and care." (Alison)

"My role is multifaceted. I help bridge communication between members of the multidisciplinary team, collaborate and advocate on a patient’s behalf, and help them navigate the hospital system. Metastatic patients are predominantly treated at home, so I am often their first point of call, and together we work out next steps. These often include overcoming side effects, educating about the disease and treatment, talking through and processing what their medical team has told them…. and much more!" (Kate)

"It’s extremely helpful to be present when news that they need an urgent biopsy is delivered. I try to attend every emergency biopsy that is performed and have been told a simple hand hold makes a big difference. I facilitate fast track referrals from GP to surgeons to ensure patients receive prompt breast specialist attention and treatment. I am available Mon-Fri to offer support any time they feel they need it. I also organise referrals to other members of the MDT and am there to explain all aspects of care leading up to when their treatment commences. When treatment begins, the breast navigators take over and a continuation of the breast nurses specialist knowledge, support and care follows the patient until it is no longer needed." (Victoria) 

"I believe that a breast cancer navigator’s role is essential to patient care, as we foster trusting relationships with the patients. We advocate for patients when needed and liaise with members of their treating team to achieve the best possible outcomes for the patient. Patients know that we are at the end of the phone when they need us and this provides them with reassurance." (Mary)