Breast health navigator steers cancer patients in right direction
Steering them straight: Gayle Homberg, breast cancer navigator at Franciscan St. James, makes sure breast cancer patients are fully informed and understand what to expect throughout treatment. | Supplied photo
Early detection and improvements in treatment are contributing to a decline in the breast cancer mortality rate. The Breast Center at Franciscan St. James Health goes the extra mile to provide patient convenience, education and compassionate care.
“As a breast health navigator, I make sure all of our breast cancer patients are fully informed and understand what to expect at each turn,” said Franciscan St. James breast navigator, Gayle Homberg.
If a screening mammogram shows anything outside of the normal range, patients are called back for another look. Fortunately, 80 percent of the time, it’s nothing. For the remaining 20 percent, they take a step further to gather more information with an ultrasound.
Sometimes the radiologist will suggest a biopsy. This is where navigation begins.
“We do our best to schedule biopsies in as timely a manner as possible,” Homberg said. “My goal is to cut down on the number of sleepless nights a patient may go through.”
Biopsies take place within the caring environment of the Breast Center. Homberg, a specially trained registered nurse, meets with patients before biopsies are performed to discuss their health history, background and family history of breast cancer.
If cancer is revealed, the case is reviewed by a Breast Tumor Board, comprised of a radiologist, surgeon, pathologist, oncologist and radiation oncologist.
“These very skilled, very dedicated physicians will formulate a treatment plan and work together for the best outcome,” Homberg said.
As patients travel along their treatment path, they are guided from one step to the next. This can be a stressful, confusing time, and Homberg makes sure transitions go smoothly, that they know where they need to go, and that they get there. For example if a patient needs an MRI, she makes sure it gets done, even if that means accompanying the patient.
Breast health navigators receive special training in all aspects of care. The medical system and insurance are very complex and Homberg can guide patients through the experience from diagnosis through survivorship. Part of her job is to counsel. She can advise patients about how to talk to their employer, spouse, children, family and friends.
The role of breast navigator at Franciscan St. James involves being here for patients as little or as much as they need. For some patients, that can mean just talking a few times. For others, that can mean talking every day.
“I tell them, ‘I am your nurse forever,’” Homberg said. “I will be here for them for as long as they need me.”
Provided by Franciscan St. James Health