There's no road map for breast cancer, but at hospitals and breast centers across the country, a new type of guide is available. Breast cancer navigators– special oncology nurses with an in-depth knowledge of the disease–help newly diagnosed patients find their way through diagnosis, treatment and recovery. For two years, oncology nurse Jill Townsend has held that post at Humility of Mary Health Partners in Youngstown, Ohio. Here, Townsend offers her advice.
- Give yourself permission to feel. Cry and be mad, but then work to overcome those feelings so they don't interfere with your care. There are more than 2 million breast cancer survivors, so often you can expect good news.
- Lovingly ignore family and friends advice. They will likely advise you based on someone else's experience, but treatment is not one-size-fits-all. Cancer characteristics determine treatment, and those vary from person to person.
- Educate yourself. Get a book about breast cancer such as Be a Survivor: Your Guide to Breast Cancer Treatment by Dr. Vladimir Lange (Lange Productions, 2009). Review your pathology report with your doctor, and ask about the characteristics of your cancer and how they affect treatment recommendations. And visit reputable websites such as the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org.
- Pause for decisions. In most cases, breast cancer is not an emergency. Take a week or two to get a second opinion or see a reconstructive surgeon. You don't want to wish later that you had had a different kind of surgery or reconstruction.
- Celebrate each treatment's completion. Give yourself credit for all of the doctor visits, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Enjoy a picnic at a park, buy a piece of jewelry, or release balloons. Breast cancer is a journey; celebrate each step.