Oncology navigator is an advocate for patients on the cancer journey

·2 min read

Oct. 25—The devastation of a cancer diagnosis can only be rivaled by the confusion about how to deal with the treatment. Patient navigation is relatively new in the world of health care, but is so vital to peace of mind.

"So my role is to provide support and assistance for our patients," Witham Health Services and Cancer Institute Oncology Navigator Erin Buckles said. "From the time they're diagnosed all the time through the treatment and survivorship, I want to make sure they don't have any barriers to getting the care that they need."

Barriers range from insurance questions to help relocating closer to the treatment center of the patient's choosing. Each patient's barriers are highly individualized, she said. Navigators typically are called in after a positive biopsy in the realm of breast cancer.

"For breast cancer, the normal first step would be for them to be consulted by a breast surgeon," Buckles said. "I make sure they're getting their appointment going and if they have questions along the way or if they have concerns, I can help answer those."

Buckles is a social worker by education. Locally, she always makes patients aware of the Boone County Cancer Society which can help breast cancer patients with bra fittings and wigs. Another program in Indiana is the Indiana Women In Need Foundation which provides support in gift cards for gas and groceries.

"I'm kind of a connector," she explained. "I connect people to resources they might need."

She often helps with insurance or finding insurance, like if a patient's medical leave or insurance benefits are about to end, Buckles will help.

"I would sit down with them and assess what their income is, what their resources are and help them figure out what kind of insurance would be the best," Buckles said, adding that she can help patients with the application process too.

If Buckles doesn't know an answer, she often tracks it down.

Buckles said she loves her job, after doing social work for a hospice provider. She said once she found oncology navigation, she found her niche.

She said it often helps just to listen to patients. She also encourages patients to reach out to their support system and allow them to help. There is a cancer support group at Witham, as well.

"Having a navigator provides a level of comfort or reassurance that they've got your back," she said. "Somebody's going to be able to provide the answers that you need to feel better about a bad situation."

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