It always helps to have a friend when going through a difficult situation. Someone to talk to when you're worried and someone to build you up when you're down. At Gordon Hospital, cancer care navigators provide that encouragement to cancer patients before, during, and even after their treatment.
A cancer care navigator is someone who coordinates a patients care and navigates them through their entire cancer journey or cancer prevention journey. Andrea Rickett, RN, fulfills this role with lung cancer patients and patients at risk for lung cancer. She works with primary care physicians to find the at-risk patients and contacts them to schedule a screening.
Our program is all about detecting lung cancers earlier, so we can create the best outcomes for our patients, said Andrea. My job is to navigate patients through every phase of the process depending on their circumstances, starting with a lung cancer screening."
Harris Radiation Therapy Center provides patients with a low-dose CT screening for those who meet certain criteria. According to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, people who meet either of the criteria below should be screened for lung cancer:
Adults ages 55 to 74 who have a 30-pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the last 15 years.
Adults age 50 or older who have a 20-pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the last 15 years and has one or more additional risk factors, such as any previous cancer (except basal cell skin cancer), a family history of lung cancer, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, pulmonary fibrosis, exposure to radon, or exposure to occupational elements.
If a screening comes back normal, Andrea gives the patient their results and schedules their annual screening and follow-up appointments as needed. If a screening comes back abnormal, Andrea schedules follow-up imaging or a biopsy if needed for the patient. If that biopsy reveals the patient has cancer, Andrea's role is to streamline their care to provide them with what they need in a timely and efficient manner, whether that be scheduling assistance or just someone to talk to.
As a cancer care navigator, I am by my patient's side to help in any way I can, said Andrea. I want to make their journey as easy as possible.
Andrea has been a nurse for 15 years. She's worked on the medical-surgical unit, in clinical informatics, and most recently as a chemo nurse. Andrea worked with Eric Turner, MD, and his staff at North Georgia Cancer Care where she found her passion for helping cancer patients.
Andrea was a valued member of our team, said Dr. Turner. She showed great compassion to her patients during their toughest times. Her infectious laugh and kind demeanor always made patients feel like family.
I loved being a chemo nurse, said Andrea. Having the opportunity to sit with them daily and encourage them meant so much to me. That's why I believe my perspective is beneficial as a cancer care navigator.
Providing education and resources to lung cancer patients and at-risk patients is one of Andrea's main responsibilities as a cancer care navigator. Many patients don't realize they meet the criteria for an annual lung cancer screening, which can be a life-saving tool.
Lung cancer screenings are obviously meant to catch lung cancer, but they can also catch other life-threatening issues as well, said Andrea. Screenings have caught aortic aneurysms, enlarged lymph nodes, and rectal cancer, just to name a few.
Harris Radiation Therapy Center offers many programs for cancer patients including a cancer and caregiver support group, exercise classes, and nutrition classes. They also host Breathe Free courses, a cessation program that has helped millions worldwide quit tobacco since the 1950s and has an 85% success rate at Gordon Hospital since 2006.
Getting my patients to be tobacco-free is extremely important, said Andrea. Eliminating even just one risk factor of lung cancer can make a difference, and our Breathe Free classes help with that.
Advocating for her patient's needs is Andrea's top priority as a cancer care navigator. She's someone they can always count on, a listening ear, and a friend.
Being by my patient's side during their journey is special to me, said Andrea. My job as a cancer care navigator gives me the opportunity to provide them with support and to simply be there for them for whatever they might need.