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CANCER. New program will guide patients on the path to the best care
A new program at Mary Washington Hospital offers 'navigators' to help patients through their cancer journeys

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Date published: 1/7/2007

When Karen Adams discovered she had breast cancer, two people helped her with the many tests and treatments that she required.

A nurse in her doctor's office and an assistant in her surgeon's office helped Adams understand what was about to happen to her. They also intervened on her behalf when delays threatened.

Without this help, Adams would have had a tougher time negotiating cancer's maze of tests and treatments.

"That's the problem with the system. If nobody's working hard for you, you just get pushed aside," Adams said.

Her "navigators" were models of the kind of helper that Dr. James R. Daniel wants every local cancer patient to have.

A retired Fredericksburg surgeon, Daniel has been hired by Mary Washington Hospital to be medical director for its oncology service and to create a cancer navigator program.

As designed by Daniel and Dianne Watson, coordinator for oncology services, the program will help patients with what Daniel calls the "cancer journey": the work-ups, consultations and treatments that cancer patients face.

"The faster the patient learns as much as they can about their disease and what is going to be done to take care of them, the better they begin to cope with it," Daniel said.

Daniel wants patients to get help with everything from scheduling appointments to finding support groups and other community services.

"The navigator is going to navigate the patient to wherever they need to go to get the most appropriate testing and the best care," Daniel said.

Hospital officials approved the program late last year. Daniel has hired a registered nurse, Regina Kenner, to be the primary navigator. They have assisted 19 cancer patients in order to see how best to structure the program.

The service is free to patients. It opened to the public this week, though for now the service is limited to lung cancer and breast cancer patients. The program will expand to patients with other types of cancer later in the year, Watson said.

Mary Washington is the latest of several organizations to offer a cancer navigator program. The American Cancer Society has navigators to provide information and to help patients find local resources.

The National Cancer Institute last year gave grants totaling $25 million to research hospitals in eight cities to develop navigator programs for minorities and the uninsured.

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