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Guardian angels
Nurse navigators are patientís guide through troubling times



Mary Kay Lam

You get the dreaded call from your surgeon with the results of your biopsy ó itís cancer. Next comes the deluge of appointments, all in the same week: the surgeon, plastic surgeon, oncologist, genetist. Your mind is still reeling with your test results.

This was my second diagnosis with breast cancer. It didnít seem to matter that I was a veteran ó those lost, scared, confused thoughts all come looming back. But this time was different, as I have an angel by my side and her name is Mary Kay Lam. She is the breast cancer nurse navigator for Aurora Advanced Healthcare, which equates to your new BFF, sounding board and leading advocate in your new war.

She called me the day after diagnosis and introduced herself. At the time I really wasnít sure what her role was in my new life as a cancer patient, but I was soon to find out how lucky I was.

She was waiting for me with a smile on her face when I went to my first appointment to see my surgeon. She sat in the waiting room and talked to me while I tried to be strong. I was about to learn what was going to take place during the bilateral mastectomy I was undergoing.

The next day she was waiting for me when I went to see my plastic surgeon; the day after that she was there when I walked in to meet the genetist. She came to the hospital post-surgery to visit me, and she shows up at my chemotherapy treatments to see how Iím doing.

Although I am one of 800 women Lam has helped since February 2007, I feel like I am her only patient. "My main goal is to be your advocate. I treat you like I would treat one of my family," says Lam.

The best part is this service is free for patients.

Aurora has different types of cancer nurse navigators. Some are generalists who may take care of multiple cancers and some are in hospital settings, while others are in clinic settings such as Lam.

Lam is the only breast cancer nurse navigator for Aurora Advanced Healthcare, and works for eight surgeons getting between three and four newly diagnosed patients a week.

"Iím very unique here, and thatís because I set the whole program up based on the research I did prior to working with patients," explains Lam.

When Lam was first hired she spent time with each physician to devise her plan. Once a patient is given their diagnosis, the surgeon notifies Lam, who then calls the patient.

But it doesnít end when treatment ends. "A big part of my role is to be there when treatment is over and through survivorship. For some, survivorship is the most difficult time," she says.

"If you donít know who to call, you call me," says Lam. And believe me I do. Her business card has a special place in my wallet. m