Breast Cancer Series

Hospital pairs patients with navigators

CREATED Oct. 4, 2012

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BROOKFIELD - It is breast cancer awareness month and we are bringing you stories all week long of new ways that women with the diagnosis are trying to fight, beat, and survive breast cancer.  Today we focus in on a local hospital offering breast cancer patients someone to help take some of the fear out of the fight.

"The first line in the piece is, grace comes in many forms," says artist Jen Weichelt, Brookfield.  She's describing a work she created after being asked to do a piece for a local breast cancer charity event. 

As Weichelt was working on her creation her own doctor sent her in to have something funny checked, "I had five spots."  So Weichelt began her battle.  She chose to get treatment at Elmbrook Memorial Hospital.

"I really needed support because I was very very afraid.  It was completely unexpected," she says.

Elmbrook Memorial pairs every breast cancer patient with what the hospital has named Patient Navigators.  Weichelt was paired with Anne Hanson.

Hanson says, "Diagnosis of cancer is very individual and people have very personalized needs."  She went on to explain that her job is to provide each woman with education, support and early identification of needs.  Hanson says she can then refer a particular patient to a particular resource once she knows more of what each woman wants.

"I didn't even have the language to ask the questions," says Weichelt.  "I haven't had anyone really close to me go through anything like this."

Hanson broke down medical terms for Weichelt and the two worked through different medical procedures together.  At one point Weichelt had to decide between a single or double mastectomy.  Hanson navigated the plethora of medical options but steered clear of making ethical decisions for Weichelt or any patient.  She says it's a matter of, "helping the patient  lay out the pro's and con's for herself and just allowing her to talk through that process."

Weichelt agrees, "I have three different doctors.  I have my surgeon, I have my oncologist, I have my radiation oncologist and she crossed all of those.  She was available to answer questions and guide me through and knows all of them.  She was kind of the bridge between everybody."

Hanson says, "I think it's nice to know that there's one person that you can call at any time and just say, 'I'm confused, I'm lost, I'm scared.  What's next?  Help me through this.'"

Hanson adds that she sees the role of a patient navigator in a unique way, "Taking some of the burden off the patient then allows her time to just sit back and say, ok, my focus now is just healing and getting better."

For Weichelt that was allowing her time to continue to work on her art.  She says she talked to other breast cancer survivors to gain inspiration, "I was really curious about the positive aspect, what they had gained from the experience, what they had learned, what spiritual blessings they had gained...because that's really what I felt like I was experiencing."

The piece now hangs on the wall in Elmbrook Memorial so other breast cancer patients can see it as they get their chemotherapy.