SEATTLE, Aug. 28, 2006 – After the shock of getting a cancer diagnosis subsides, where do you turn if you're the patient or a loved one? One of the most trusted information sources is the American Cancer Society and it has entered into a three-year agreement with the Swedish Cancer Institute to bring powerful national resources, coupled with personalized and localized attention, to the Puget Sound area.
The American Cancer Society Cancer Resource Network is now fully functional at the Swedish Cancer Institute's Cancer Education Center on Seattle's First Hill. The new Cancer Resource Navigator program is the first of its kind in Washington state. The Society has established similar programs at major medical centers around the United States.
"Navigators are connectors – they connect the patient, caregiver and family member with information and/or referrals that fill a big void in how cancer patients are served," said Cynthia Bush, local American Cancer Society Quality of Life Director. "We have a well-used national 1-800 line and our www.cancer.org Web site gets 18 million visits per year. Now, we're able to take the organization outside its walls and work with patients personally and proactively in their own communities."
Stephanie Wichmann, M.S.W., has been hired as the first Navigator at Swedish. A specialist in community-based social work, Wichmann relocated here from Portland, Ore., where she served at an agency for homeless youth.
"Cancer treatment is complicated and can affect many different aspects of a patient's life," said Barbara Kollar, manager of Patient Education and Integrated Care at the Swedish Cancer Institute. "Stephanie improves quality of care by helping with everything from scheduling appointments, to arranging transportation or childcare, to following up on diagnostic tests, to reviewing insurance coverage, to securing financial assistance if needed."
A Navigator's Role
"Many people are almost paralyzed when they learn they have cancer," said Wichmann. "Soon, though, they want to know ‘What do I do now? Where can I turn? Who can I talk to – about anything or everything?' My first job is to move patients from emotional coping to problem-solving, then help them keep control of their lives at every step in the treatment process."
In addition to offering emotional support, Wichmann uses two powerful tools to assist patients. The American Cancer Society's Cancer Information Database provides detailed data in lay language on cancer types, treatment side effects, fatigue, coping mechanisms and the psycho-social aspects of cancer therapy. A constantly updated Community Resource Database, a blend of information from the Society and Swedish, supplies local and statewide contacts.
Wichmann worked directly with 64 different patients in one recent month, answering questions from the simple ("Where do I park?") to the anything but simple ("How do I tell my children I have cancer?"). "I get a lot of chemotherapy and radiation treatment-related questions," she explained. "And inquiries about clinical trials of new drugs, community support groups and integrated-care programs."
Wichmann spends most of each day meeting or talking on the telephone with patients and family members, plus connecting with them via e-mail. She also devotes time to visiting inpatient waiting areas and catching up there with both patients and caregivers. Another big part of the job is explaining to Swedish doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers exactly how she can help their cancer patients.
Recently, a woman contacted Wichmann from out of state. She was newly diagnosed with breast cancer and wanted to sort through treatment options and travel logistics, plus learn about available support groups. She also needed advice about how to interact with her husband, who was experiencing considerable distress after the diagnosis. Wichmann promptly arranged for them to be connected with the housing and transportation coordinator. Then she talked at length with the couple, helping them understand diagnosis and treatment options, and identifying a local caregivers support group for the husband.
When the woman arrived in Seattle, she called Wichmann to touch base and ask for more information on local resources, restaurants and bus routes. Wichmann also met with the woman after her treatment started to make sure she felt fully informed and to address other questions or concerns. In a thank-you note, the woman wrote: "I feel so blessed to have you as a resource for me. It is so nice to know you are always there."
The Society staff did an analysis of local medical centers to determine the best site for the Navigator program partner. They looked for providers that treated a minimum of 750 cancer patients each year, with at least 30 percent of them falling in the under-served category. The ideal facility also had to have a strong existing infrastructure of cancer support programs, and that was fully in place at the Swedish Cancer Institute.
The American Cancer Society plans to have seven Navigators in the Puget Sound area over the next three years, with the goal of serving as many patients as possible. Currently, the Society touches 20 percent of cancer patients in some way and the organization wants to increase that to 70 percent by 2010.
About half of the funds for the $300,000 Seattle program were raised through a corporate golf tournament in 2005. Top sponsors included Premera/Blue Cross, Microsoft, the Boeing Employees Fund and AstraZeneca.
For more information about the Navigator program at the Swedish Cancer Institute, call 206-386-2587 or 206-386-3200.