Throughout eastern Wisconsin, more than 30 cancer nurse navigators within the Aurora Cancer Care nurse navigator program help patients and their families through the diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship stages of cancer. Navigators are present in nine markets, soon to be 10 thanks to a grant from the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation.
Aurora’s nurse navigators are specially trained registered nurses who discuss testings and screenings, level of distress patients and their families are experiencing, barriers to care, and the importance of advance directives. During the treatment phase, navigators serve as the conduit to the physician, helping with communicating what is and will happen, and discussing additional options available within Aurora Health Care and the patient’s community during treatment. In the post-treatment and survivorship portion or care, navigators work with patients on follow-up screenings, wellness programs, and more.
We spoke with Marija Bjegovich-Weidman, RN, MSN, OCN, CCAP, senior director of Aurora Cancer Care, about the importance of the navigator program, partnership with the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation, and the organization’s plans to grow the program further.
Q: What do you see as the value/importance of navigation and the role of nurse navigators?
Marija Bjegovich-Weidman: At Aurora Health Care and Aurora Cancer Care, our focus is on helping patients live well. We know that anyone who experiences cancer has many questions and concerns, as does their family.
The nurse navigators really serve as the patient’s advocate, answering questions for them, helping them understand the treatment plans, and navigating all aspects of care, from first appointment to post-care needs.
Q: The Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation recently donated more than $100,000 to the Aurora Cancer Center in support of your navigation program. How will those funds be allocated?
MBW: The donation to Aurora Cancer Care in Racine (Wis.) will help add one nurse navigator to the market, helping provide additional cancer care to patients in Racine County, which is south of Milwaukee. It’s a growing community with many new jobs entering the county. With recent expansion of the Aurora Health Center in eastern Racine and the Aurora Southern Lakes Health Center in Western Racine County, both of which offer cancer treatment options, we believe more navigators for these programs will help more patients.
Q: How did Aurora’s relationship with the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation start?
MBW: The Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation began in 1971 with a golf outing to raise money for cancer research. Since then, the organization has raised more than $19 million toward cancer care, and each year designates dollars solely for cancer care offered through Aurora Cancer Care.
Q: What other ways has Aurora worked with the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation?
MBW: In addition to partnering together for almost 30 years, Aurora Cancer Care and Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation joined together to form the statewide “Lombardi Walk/Run to Tackle Cancer.” There are 10 events throughout the state, and all dollars raised help to support local cancer care programs in that community.
Q: How does Aurora plan to continue to grow its navigation program?
MWB: As the need for cancer care continues to grow, Aurora Cancer Care will look at finding more ways to bring care closer to patients. This could mean expansion of the navigator programs. In the last three years, Aurora has opened three new outpatient surgery centers in Wisconsin, each with cancer treatment options, and the organization has more plans for outpatient surgery centers in the coming years.
Cancer care will continue to be a focal point of care and we’ll be focused on delivering the best in care close to home. We treat more than 8,000 cancer patients each year, so making the care as convenient as possible with the best experience is a priority to our team, and the nurse navigator program fits into this model.