When most people think about breast cancer awareness and prevention, it’s likely thoughts of things like mammograms, radiation and chemotherapy and even those who lost their fight to the disease. Most hospitals are able to meet the basic medical needs of breast cancer patients, if not go beyond that to offer cutting-edge technology for early detection. However, being able to provide the care is one thing, but personalizing it to the patient is a different type of amenity — one that clinics around the state are making available to each breast cancer patient through the employment of nurse navigators.
THE BREAST CENTER – A MANA CLINIC
The Breast Center, A MANA Clinic was the first independent facility in Arkansas dedicated to breast imaging and was opened by Dr. Danna Grear and Dr. Kevin Pope in 2003. Working in conjunction with other surgeons and oncologists in the area, the clinic highly values personalization of care and its multidisciplinary approach.
Dr. Pope, a diagnostic radiologist at The Breast Center, says for many women, having to make appointments with multiple doctors at multiple clinics for each of their different cancer needs can be frustrating because of potential miscommunication. This is one reason why the team at The Breast Center not only communicates with patients what they will be experiencing at each step of the treatment process but also assists them in making their next appointments. They also hold meetings every Thursday with a team of providers and discuss new diagnoses and develop individual plans for treating cases. They even quickly provide all the necessary imaging beforehand for providers who prefer it.
“Our surgeons like pretreatment MRIs to give them an idea of what’s going on in both breasts. We can usually do that within a week,” says Dr. Pope.
The timeliness of their services is one aspect the clinic takes seriously, believing deeply in their mission to “provide hope through early detection with personalized care.”
A lot can happen between the time a patient notices an irregularity in her body and the time she begins cancer treatment. At The Breast Center, patients who discover a lump are scheduled as quickly as possible and often worked in the same day. All suspicious screenings are expedited. Patients are called with their results within 24 hours and those who have abnormal mammogram results are not only sent a letter but also receive a personal phone call from the clinic explaining the results. The clinic makes a point to have adequate staff and doctors available so they are able to perform same-day biopsies when needed.
The Breast Center’s dedication to personalizing treatment is shown through the forms of support they offer to newly diagnosed patients including genetic testing, access to community support services like the Washington Regional Medical Center Cancer Support Home and nurse navigators. These particular nurses are specialized in breast disease and help communicate to patients information and expertise regarding diagnosis and next steps.
“When I see compassionate care given by our staff, it is a source of pride for me,” Dr. Pope says.
But that’s not the only thing he is proud of. The staff at The Breast Center have also worked hard to be able to obtain multiple accreditations, including being designated a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence (BICOE) by the American College of Radiology. They are one of only a few centers in the state with the designation.
Along with multiple other designations, the clinic is also proud of its doctors — all of whom subspecialize in breast imaging to give patients the most personalized and expert-led care.
WASHINGTON REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER’S CANCER SUPPORT HOME
One of Washington Regional Medical Center’s most valued services for helping patients through a cancer battle is the Cancer Support Home, which offers things like education, counseling, support groups, screenings and diagnostic testing, and even a wig and prosthesis boutique.
Two of the most unique services at the facility are overnight lodging and the Cancer Help Fund.
“We have a Cancer Help Fund that we can [use] to help pay for any kind of bills that they may have while they’re in treatment just to ensure that they continue on their treatment plan and have the support that they need,” says manager Jason Kelly.
Assessing patients’ financial needs is one of the first things the Cancer Support Home tries to do at the forefront for each newly referred patient. Outside of the Cancer Help Fund, the nurse navigators also help patients find funding from other sources such as Susan G. Komen.
For those who are in from out of town, the home offers opportunity for lodging.
“We have four overnight guest rooms here at the home; they can accommodate two people each,” Kelly says.
In order to be able to take advantage of the rooms, one of which is fully handicapped accessible, patients must have a caregiver with them at all times.
Although the lodging house isn’t staffed 24/7, the all-around support offered by the Cancer Support Home is. With the nurse navigators always on high-alert and ready to help, patients are constantly surrounded by someone to hold their hand throughout the treatment process.
“Part of the services we provide are just being an advocate — going with them to appointments, calling and checking on them, giving them education or providing them different options,” says Misty Johnson, the lead breast health navigator.
Nurse navigators also do things like going to the homes of patients to set up for post-surgery convalescence and also helping to relay doctors’ updates to family members while patients are in surgery.
“I help a lot of the Spanish-speaking patients understand their treatment options as the doctors are telling them to ensure that [the language barrier] doesn’t keep them from having treatment,” says Teresa Cortes, bilingual breast health navigator. Having a bilingual navigator available is a major help for many patients’ families.
“It’s nothing for [nurse navigators] to go sit hours at an appointment with family members while a patient is having surgery, especially for Teresa and the clients who don’t speak English,” says Kelly. “She’s there making sense of what the doctors are saying and what the treatment plans are.”
Many cancer survivors stay involved and engaged even after the treatment part of their cancer journey is over by continuing to attend support groups and activities.
“It’s cool for us to be a part of not just Washington Regional but a network in Northwest Arkansas making a dent in breast health,” Kelly says.
The Cancer Support Home is currently in a capital campaign to build a new facility in Fayetteville and offer 10 fully handicapped-accessible rooms.
“We’re in a capital campaign to build a new cancer support home,” Kelly says. “That groundbreaking is supposed to happen before the end of this year.”
THE BREAST CENTER AT CARTI
One of the newer breast cancer treatment facilities in the state is The Breast Center at CARTI, which opened June 2019. The new center features leading screening mammography and a more comfortable overall experience.
“We have tried to [overcome] every possible and every conceivable barrier, every reason a woman would say ‘I don’t want to have a mammogram because…’,” says Dr. Stacy A. Smith-Foley, diagnostic radiologist and medical director of The Breast Center at CARTI. “The experience is elevated. It feels like you’re doing something nice for yourself.”
At The Breast Center at CARTI, patients receive dedicated front-door parking, personal iPad check-ins, a beautiful facility and private dressing rooms with soft waffle-weave robes in personal mammogram suites. As far as logistics go, the facility offers same-day scheduling and results for diagnostic patients.
Although most women who come in for mammograms are in for routine checks and aren’t currently experiencing any symptoms, the statistics are clear that a percentage undoubtedly come away with unexpected results. For many women this part can be scary which is why The Breast Center at CARTI also utilizes a nurse navigator. However, they are very intentional about her ability to relate to patients.
“[Our nurse navigator] is a breast cancer survivor herself, so she understands this process,” Dr. Smith-Foley says.
CARTI also recently opened a Cancer Genetics and Risk Management clinic soon after unveiling The Breast Center. Within this particular clinic are an oncologist and a breast surgeon, a genetic counselor and two nurse practitioners with a background in breast disease. Dr. Smith-Foley says the two clinics work hand-in-hand.
“Without that piece to help high-risk patients, we wouldn’t be able to do everything we wanted to do,” she says.
Patients who identified as high-risk are able to be referred to the clinic, which is in the same building on an upper floor, and provided with risk-reduction strategies.
Dr. Smith-Foley says that when breast cancer is detected early, the 5-year survival rate is 98 percent. Since the facility’s opening, it has served more than 500 patients and 20 received a breast cancer diagnosis.