Cancer is a serious illness. And the traditional treatments for cancer – surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy – often have a reputation of being as hard on the body as the disease itself.
While for some forms of cancer that may unfortunately still be the case, the progress that has been made in diagnosing and treating many forms of the disease has evolved greatly in recent years.
“There are newer treatments that are becoming more widely available more quickly–even from where it was five years ago,” according to Jeannette Mastrovich, BSN, OCN, cancer nurse navigator at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Waxahachie.
Mastrovich says newly diagnosed cancer patients often believe the treatments prescribed are the same for all patients with that particular form of cancer. However, new methods to further analyze each individual patient’s cancer, in addition to novel therapies, mean that cancer treatment can be tailored to each patient’s unique needs.
“Everything is so much more personalized now,” says Mastrovich.
Out of the Hospital
Fifteen years ago, when Mastovich worked as a cancer nurse, she says most of the time being treated for cancer meant a stay in the hospital at some point or another.
Now, most cancer patients receive care on an outpatient basis. This is largely due to many of the aforementioned progress in cancer treatment. While surgery, radiation and chemotherapy still headline the three main categories of cancer therapy, advances within each of these fields has progressed mightily.
Surgery has become less invasive. Radiation therapy has become more precise and targeted. And some of the newer chemotherapy agents for certain forms of cancer have softened many of the side effects chemo has long been notorious for, such as hair loss and severe nausea.
“Most of our patients continue to work and engage in regular activity while they’re being treated,” says Mastrovich.
She also says the quality of care has improved along with the convenience of being treated at outpatient clinics like the ones Baylor Scott & White operates in Waxahachie and Duncanville.
“There are even oral treatment options in the form of pills that can be taken at home,” she adds.
Breaking Down Barriers
Often, patients hear the sticker price of a cancer drug or believe they can’t go about their lives with all the doctor’s appointments and treatment sessions typically required on the road to survivorship, leaving them feeling overwhelmed. That’s where cancer nurse navigators like Mastrovich come in–to serve as a guide and advocate for cancer patients and their families throughout the cancer care journey.
“A navigator’s primary role is to identify barriers to care for patients, and once we identify those barriers, help patients overcome them,” she explains.
For instance, cancer nurse navigators can help patients schedule all their doctor’s appointments on a single day for patients that work or who have difficulty finding transportation. They may even be able to help arrange transportation if needed. Navigators also can help connect patients who may be underinsured or non-insured with the resources they need to receive care. But among a navigator’s most important roles is to provide patients accurate, current information and dispel any misconceptions. Because as with many things in life, when it comes to fighting cancer, knowledge truly is power.