Oncology nurse navigators offer a shoulder to lean on in darkest hour

A breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming for anyone. An oncology nurse navigator can help make the process easier for patients by answering questions, addressing concerns, working with a patient’s team of doctors and so much more.

“Patients that come in and have an abnormal mammogram have an opportunity at that time to meet with a navigator. Most of them will wait until they have a specific diagnosis. Once they have a diagnosis, we are meeting with them. So, we are meeting with them from the time of their diagnosis all the way through the continuum of care. We care for the whole person, and we also care for their family,” said Phyllis Rudokas, oncology nurse navigator for Atrium Medical Center, a part of Premier Health.

Rudokas specializes in helping patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, lung, and blood cancers. In her role, she has served thousands of patients on their cancer journey, assisting those who have faced cancer diagnoses and treatment as well as survivorship. Rudokas was recognized as a 2019 Ohio Hospital Association Health Care Worker of the Year honoree.

Rudokas has also been honored with the “Caring Like Karen” caregiver award in 2018 by the Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty for her more than 30 years of work as an oncology nurse navigator at Middletown Regional Hospital and Atrium Medical Center. The award honors local caregivers who go above and beyond the call of duty in caring for individuals and families in the community.

In her role as a point person, Rudokas makes appointments for patients, and she becomes their advocate. As an oncology nurse navigator, she can assist patients with things like providing information about specific cancer diagnosis and treatment options, coordinating care with the patient’s healthcare team, assisting them with financial concerns or health insurance questions as well as connecting them with other resources.

“At every point, I talk to them, I tell them to call me if they have questions. I may not know all the answers, but I know who we can call,” Rudokas said. “We are going to find out if they need any referrals to social work, a dietician, chaplain, or mental health worker, or any kind of outside facility they may need. We try to find out what their needs are, and what is going to get them through this journey with the least number of barriers. We want them to get through treatment feeling like they were taken care of. I had an individual tell me she felt like she was a princess, because she was so well cared for, and that’s what we want to have these patients feel like. We’re there for them, we’re their advocate, and we are their point person.”

For most patients, the biggest worry is the cost.

“Everyone comes in with questions about that because everybody has heard how expensive everything is, and how they are not going to be able to afford it, and they are going to lose their house,” Rudokas said. "So, we sit down, and talk with them about insurance, what they would owe, and there is also a financial counselor at the hospital…Fear of dying is another major concern for patients.”

Nurse navigators and their patients also work with organizations such as the American Cancer Society, Pink Ribbon Girls, and the Atrium Medical Center Foundation, among others.

“I’m proud of our program. We do a very good job of caring for patients,” Rudokas said, “My reward is when the patient is able to tell me, ‘I’m doing really well,’ or ‘I went and played golf today,’ or ‘I played with my grandkids.’ That’s what’s really important to me.”

To connect with a Premier Health cancer navigator, call the Premier Health cancer hotline at (844) 316-HOPE (4673), Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information about cancer treatment at Premier Health can be found online at www.PremierHealth.com/cancer.

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