Nurse Navigators: Guiding Patients Through Breast Cancer

Meet Sanford Health's two-person team who help breast cancer patients

This week, we’ve partnered with the Edith Sanford Breast Center to raise awareness of the importance of screenings for the early detection of breast cancer.  Sometimes getting through a cancer diagnosis is a little easier with help from a nurse navigator.

Gloria Top (left) & Donna Dwire (right)

“I feel very privileged to be able to be here, to be able to take care of patients,” says Sanford Health Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator Gloria Top.

Nurse Navigator Donna Dwire adds, “You just kind of want to make a sense of purpose of what you went through.”

Donna and Gloria are both of Sanford Health’s breast cancer nurse navigators.  They’re closer than most coworkers.  They share an incredible accomplishment: both survived breast cancer.  Plus, Gloria was Donna’s nurse navigator during Donna’s fight in 2009.

“I was sitting in the chemo chair, feeling kind of beat up and feeling kind of victimized.  And I saw Gloria walk by and I looked at her and I thought, ‘Wow, she’s more fit than I’ll ever be, her hair is gorgeous, look, hair grows back!’  So, it was good to see a survivor who was working and doing well and doing great things,” Donna recounts.

Sanford sees about 25 new breast cancer patients every month.  Each of them can have access to Donna and Gloria.  So, what exactly is a nurse navigator?  First and foremost, they’re nurses; Donna has been a nurse for 35 years, Gloria for 40.  To become navigators, they had additional certification and training in breast cancer.  Gloria and Donna are there as resources for patients, making sure people understand the disease, their diagnosis and treatments.

“Usually the newly-diagnosed [patients,] or ones who have had some change in their prognosis, so we can teach patients what’s up with this new therapy or what’s up this new treatment so they can have a better understanding of it,” Donna says.

Gloria adds, “They will get our direct line so they can call us with any questions or concerns.  And I think that’s where nurse navigators fill the role, to help these patients because there’s so much fear and anxiety within them.”

Gloria was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and says she wishes she would’ve had a nurse navigator on her journey to become cancer free.  Her and Gloria’s own personal battles with breast cancer inspired the two to become navigators.  Their experience also helps them connect with patients.  They not only have a lot in common, they also have each other’s backs.  Helping so many others with their breast cancer journeys can take an emotional toll.

“You touch people’s lives and then you have to ask yourself to take a deep breath and step back out of that room and then go into the next room.  And that’s difficult, so it’s wonderful to have that support person there.  There’s a sisterhood there as well,” says Donna.

Sanford Health has a total of eight nurse navigators for various cancers, including breast, lung, GI, GYN and head & neck.

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