$50k continues nurse navigator program
breast cancer, university of colorado cancer center

At the University of Colorado Cancer Center newly diagnosed breast cancer patients are offered a nurse navigator to guide them through an often emotional, confusing and exhausting journey.

A woman or man newly diagnosed with breast cancer can be overwhelmed by emotions and decisions surrounding the news. Questions start rolling through her mind, but the terms and concepts are unfamiliar. Appointments need to be scheduled, but she often doesn’t know where to start.

At the Diane O’Connor Thompson Breast Center at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, Carol Emberley, RN, BSN, is the friendly face helping new breast cancer patients navigate through what can be an emotional, confusing and exhausting journey. As a nurse navigator, Emberley is the primary contact for breast cancer patients as they enter the University of Colorado Health system.

“People, as I would be, are very anxious when they are first diagnosed,” Emberley says. “They want to be seen as fast as possible, but it is important to collect all of the documents required to formulate the best treatment plan. My job is to comfort them, help ease their anxieties and guide them as they begin this process.”

Established less than four years ago, the nurse navigator program was started by and continues to rely on external sources of funding in order to provide its services. Recently, King Soopers donated $50,000 to the CU Cancer Center to continue the program, which was originally funded by the University of Colorado Hospital’s annual fundraising event, Men for the Cure.

For the past three decades, Emberley has dedicated her career to working with breast cancer patients—first as a nurse and now as a charge nurse and nurse navigator. She works behind the scenes facilitating the Breast Center’s multidisciplinary clinic, which brings together surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, plastic surgeons and other specialists to create a comprehensive care plan for each patient.

“In the community, newly diagnosed patients have to go to several different offices to see their surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and plastic surgeons,” says Christina Finlayson, MD, MEd, director of the Diane O’Connor Thompson Breast Center. “At the Breast Center, we offer a multi-disciplinary team under one roof so patients can see all of their specialists in one visit.”

Beyond scheduling the first appointment, Emberley gathers pathology reports, mammograms and other records important to the patient’s diagnosis. Once a care plan is developed, she helps newly diagnosed patients implement their plans. Additionally, Emberley is always the person to answer calls in real-time when patients need to hear a reassuring and comforting voice.

“Through the nurse navigator, we’re able to offer someone who can quickly fulfill the needs of newly diagnosed patients,” Finlayson says. “Carol has a great way of talking to all of these patients. She has been so successful in improving their experience after they have been diagnosed. We have recently added a navigator to breast imaging to provide similar services to patients from the time a questionable lesion has been identified through the process of obtaining a diagnosis.”

“I can be reassuring for patients since I’m very familiar with the disease, I know the system and I can often answer most of their questions,” says Emberley. “Patients are often just looking for someone who can ease their anxieties and fears. My job is to be that person.”