Sinclair Cares: Nurse navigator program

Sinclair Cares looks at the Nurse Navigator program to help those with a cancer diagnosis. (WPEC)

October is breast cancer awareness month.

One of the most frustrating things right after a diagnosis is processing the flood of new information.

That's where nurse navigators come in.

They help patients pilot these emotional challenges.

"It was like the life had been just sucked out of me," said Amanda Cornell. "Nothing can prepare you for that."

It was the worst news of Amanda Cornell's life.

And it came with a mountain of questions, fear and anxiety. She didn't know anything about breast cancer or what to do next.

The team at the Ruth J. Spear Breast Center at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Oregon told her to call "Julie."

"I just thought, gosh, one more person I have to talk to," said Cornell.

Julie Alridge is a nurse navigator. She guides people through the scary world of breast cancer.

"I always say that I think patients get a mini medical degree with this diagnosis, and they're asked to make all these decisions which they have no history in making those types of decisions," said Alridge.

The first nurse navigator program launched in 1990. The program is now in hospitals around the country, but not always available to every cancer patient.

There is a growing movement to change that by training more nurses and expanding the programs.

Cornell knows how critical a role they play. She says Alridge is like a life coach, helping her to take back control when it seemed impossible.

"When I found out I was going to lose my left breast, that was probably harder than anything and so I did go to Julie and she showed me pictures of patients who've gone through mastectomies and I thought,'oh- that doesn't look so bad.'"

"That's why I do what I do," said Alridge. "Bring everything down and put it in a framework and they can move forward."

After a double mastectomy, chemo and radiation, Cornell is cancer free. She feels lucky. She not only survived but came through it with a new friend who turned out to be a lifesaver.

"It's wonderful to just help somebody's day be easier, really to ease their way in a really difficult time is amazing. I love it," said Alridge.

If you or a loved one is facing a cancer diagnosis, ask your oncology team about a nurse navigator.

You can also call the American Cancer Society at 800-227-2345 to see if there is a program in your area.

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