Navigating the journey through breast cancer

It was news Karen Cost was not expecting to hear — twice. In her 60s, Cost was healthy. As a physician, she knew the importance of exercising daily and maintaining a balanced diet. But in September 2009, after her annual mammogram revealed a suspicious area, Cost was told she had breast cancer. Like many women hearing this diagnosis, her initial reaction was shock.

“I began looking for the next step. How do I get through this? How do I get back to the things I do — work, taking care of family? How do I get my life back?” Cost said.

In May 2012, Cost was again diagnosed with breast cancer after a suspicious lesion was found during a routine mammogram. This time she was more prepared for the road ahead; however, new questions emerged.

“It was another bump in the road, but one I was going to get through,” Cost said.

She found solace and support through her patient navigator, Leesa Mattingly, R.N., OCN. Norton Cancer Institute’s Patient Navigator Program consists of a team of oncology-certified nurses who help steer the treatment course for patients and connect them with the support they need.

“We try to connect with the patient as early as possible and work to eliminate barriers to care, like transportation, finances and language,” Mattingly said. “From the point of a suspicious finding through survivorship, we are with the patient throughout the entire journey.”

Studies show that navigator programs are linked to better outcomes for patients because they are designed to deliver a well-rounded approach to treatment that includes emotional and psychological support for the entire family in addition to physical treatment of the patient.

“Leesa was amazing,” Cost said. “She was there during the critical times of my treatment process, and she gave me much-needed support. She helped me understand what my diagnosis meant to me and my life, and provided me with abundant resources throughout my treatment.”

As Cost moves on with her life as a two-time survivor, she will be able to call on her patient navigator as new questions or challenges emerge.

“When I needed answers, she was there … and will be there throughout this next journey,” Cost said.