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Some breast cancer patients in Pa. have own navigator

October 23, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Starting with a woman's first mammogram, she can find an ally in Summit Health's nurse navigator.

Cindy Blake, who has been in the job for more than a year, tells women what to expect in a mammogram, surgery, and radiology and chemotherapy treatments. Her services are free for patients in the Summit Health system, which includes Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals in Franklin County, Pa.

"It's a real maze. ... Breast cancer treatment has gotten very complex. There are a lot of options and a lot of things the women need to know is available," Dr. James E. Hurley II, a thoracic surgeon with Chambersburg Hospital, said.

He described Blake as "a lightning rod" for patients to "get around the system, help them out, be a shoulder to lay on if they have a problem."

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"I'm on call 24/7, so I do carry a beeper in case one of the clients has an issue or concern after hours," said Blake, who said she's available to help with those questions that keeps patients up at night.

"I just tell them that, if it's important to them, it's important to me. My job truly is patient advocacy, so don't hesitate to call," she said.

The most common question concerns what a patient should wear home from the hospital following a mastectomy, Blake said. Other questions involve exercising, driving home from treatments and reactions to medication, she said.

Blake, who has been a nurse for 21 years and also is a nurse practitioner, works with five surgeons, three neurologists, three medical oncologists, two radiation oncologists and any referring physicians.

Her position was created based on the work of Lillian Shockney at John Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. Shockney, a breast cancer survivor, became an advocate for patients there.

"I spent a couple afternoons with her down at Hopkins. ... We kind of wanted to reproduce that type of atmosphere up here," Hurley said.

Summit Health does about 1,800 mammograms a month in Shippensburg, Greencastle, Waynesboro and Chambersburg. Suspicious results lead to a biopsy within a week, followed by surgery and/or other treatments, Hurley said.

"I try to be there if it's the first chemotherapy treatment or if they're having surgery in the hospital," Blake said. She also goes to appointments as "an extra set of ears," especially if a family member isn't available that day.

Her name has been passed onto patients, ranging from their 20s to 90s, through physician referrals. Blake's goal is to call every client at least once a week.

"I think the most amazing part is the courage these woman have. Once they are over that initial 'I have a breast cancer,' women of today want to know about their treatment options. They want to know about the disease process. And I enjoy that education part of it," Blake said.

Washington County Hospital and City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., do not currently have a staff member designated to work specifically with patients who have breast cancer.

Blake can be reached at 717-217-6747.

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