Patient Navigation: Making your Cancer Journey a Little Less Daunting

When you hear and see the word Navigation you normally think of a ship navigating treacherous ocean waters. Navigating Cancer is also a treacherous and daunting journey. Hearing the words “You have Cancer” strikes fear into the very depths of your soul. It is incredibly overwhelming and causes so much fear and often ambivalence.

A Patient Navigator helps educate, guide and support you through your Cancer Journey. From Diagnosis: Helping you to understand your diagnosis, to prepare you mentally and physically before acute phase treatment starts, if possible. (Prehabilitation.) Prehab is protection against the coming storm. Preparing questions for you to ask your doctors, providing you with evidence-based resources on your specific Cancer. What to expect during your treatment pre–surgery, chemo, radiation, endocrine therapy as well as immunotherapy. How to manage treatment side effects. To help and guide you with psychosocial issues, depression and anxiety and to refer you to Counsellors, Social Workers or Psychologists / Psychiatrists if necessary. Setting up convenient appointment times with all of your Health Care Professionals, assisting you with medical aid queries. Recommending support groups for you and your family.

Once treatment is complete and often for many patients treatment may be ongoing, you then enter the Survivorship Phase of your journey. This transition between the phases is often very difficult. Suddenly you do not see your Health Care Providers as much, you do not have as many treatment appointments and intense monitoring. Although your life gets back to normal you are often in limbo and feel very vulnerable. Survivorship is ongoing. Cancer can be compared to any chronic disease, it has to be continuously managed and monitored. Survivorship Navigation helps keep you on track. Advising on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes healthy balanced diets, maintaining a healthy weight, exercise programs, smoking cessation, cutting down on alcohol and adherence to ongoing medicines or treatments. Having your recommended screenings and check ups, especially the monitoring of late term cancer treatment side effects. This is all so vitally important to help keep you physically and mentally on top of your game and Cancer free.

There is so much evidence based research on the benefits of exercise, healthy balanced diets and maintaining a healthy body weight. Just 30 to 40 mins of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise 3–4 times per week such as walking / running or light weight bearing exercises can help prevent depression, anxiety and fatigue. Help improve body image and immune function, boost mental capacity, improve sleep. Prevent Osteoporosis and, most importantly, help prevent Cancer reoccurrence.

Navigation also reduces the burden on Doctors who are so busy and have limited time, as well as medical systems, by saving time and cost like unnecessary visits to the emergency room and long hospital stays.

Navigation is such a necessary and vital health care service in both Public and Private medical sectors. In many countries around the world, including South Africa, the Public health care systems which serve the underserved and very poor have many more barriers to care. Limited access to lifesaving treatments and medicines, long waiting times for treatments and to see Doctors, especially Specialists. With the incredible advances in Cancer treatments and care more and more people are surviving Cancer and the need for Navigation increases exponentially.

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