Elissa “Elly” Peters, RN, MS, OCN, CBCN, is a breast cancer nurse navigator for Penrose Cancer Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. She has served as a nurse navigator since August 2010.
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Q: What is the most important work you do as a nurse navigator?
Elissa Peters: I meet with the patient and her loved ones soon after her breast cancer diagnosis. The important work starts there. Every woman has roles, responsibilities and a life that is altered by an unplanned cancer diagnosis. I work to get to know each person upfront, wanting to know what is important to them, what their initial fears are and what concerns they have moving forward. I then work to facilitate a seamless transition between the many diverse physician specialists that will be utilized in their care.
There is a lot of information given in these first appointments, and I strive to make sure what is said is understood by the patient and family. By focusing on the whole patient, not only the diagnosis, I am often able to help them a lot.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
EP: Honestly, I love talking to women when they have completed treatment. Many times, they reflect back at what they have just been through and they are amazed at what they have accomplished. These women turn from fearful and nervous to empowered about their health, and they move forward into the cancer survivorship phase. These women do, at times, have longstanding side effects as the complete treatment. Yet I see a confidence in them that wasn’t there at initial diagnosis.
Q: Can you share a story about a patient experience that you feel demonstrates the value of nurse navigation?
EP: I recently had a woman that was coming for treatment in Colorado Springs from a rural town three hours from our city. Traveling distance was a big issue. She also shared with me her love for her job and how important it was to continue working during treatment. From neoadjuvant chemotherapy to breast surgery to radiation treatment, I was able to arrange housing as needed, schedule multiple appointments for the days she would be in Colorado Springs and accommodate traveling needs for her family support system. She was able to work through the majority of her treatment and this was a high priority for her.
She also was very inquisitive and had multiple questions and concerns at each step of treatment. She was a young woman in her 40s that had really never been sick before. At first, each step was very foreign to her. With emotional support, education and ongoing reinforcement of this education, she was able to make informed decisions that were best for her and her family. As her nurse navigator, I was available before and after their physician appointments. Prior to her appointments, we were able to organize her thoughts and questions. After the appointments, we were able to reflect on the treatment plan moving forward.
This lovely woman had the option of lumpectomy or mastectomy as she was deciding on what type of breast surgery to pursue. This was a difficult decision for her, as it often is for many women. Through this important decision-making process, I was there to facilitate needed follow-up visits and additional consultations, again provided emotional support and advocated for her as she made her decision for lumpectomy after neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
Q: What value do you think nurse navigation provides?
EP: We are first there for the patient and family. In a complex healthcare system, with multiple specialties involved, the treatment plan can be confusing and overwhelming at times. Nurse navigation provides the glue that holds the healthcare system together for the patient.
We are also an important part of the cancer care team. Here at Penrose Cancer Center, our feedback and opinion is valued by our colleagues. We work together with the holistic care of the patient and family at the center.
Q: What technology do you use in your position?
EP: Fortunately, I have access to all three electronic medical records utilized at the cancer center. This is vital for efficient and effective communication to and from the other members of our vast healthcare team. The advancement of electronic records has been exciting to see in the past decade. I look forward to even more advancement in this technology in the future.
I hope that one day, all of the separate records will be able to communicate easily with each other. This will provide the most efficient system for our cancer patients.