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Navigating roadblocks to cancer treatment in Davis County

Published November 10, 2010 2:08 pm

Davis Hospital gives families someone to help navigate financial and emotional roadblocks.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When Denise Kotter heard the word "cancer" everything else fell away.

"I thought I was going to die right then and there," Kotter, 53, of Layton, said. She'd never go back to work as a special education teacher, never see her grandchildren grow up. The doctor kept talking, but nothing else sunk in.

That's not uncommon, said Cindy Stewart, the women's imaging supervisor at Davis Hospital and Medical Center.

"It's like the Charlie Brown teacher voice," she said. "You don't hear or comprehend anything that they're saying to you."

After her breast cancer diagnosis last year, Kotter met with Stewart, who was then the hospital's patient navigator. Stewart said she would be there if Kotter had any questions about her treatment, needed help with scheduling appointments, or just wanted a shoulder to cry on. She handed her a booklet specific to her type of breast cancer that would act as both textbook, journal and organizer.

It might not have seemed like much, but the little book was like a lifeboat, something she could hang on to.

"I was the first one in my family to ever have breast cancer," Kotter said. The booklet "was something that helped me find out exactly what I was going to go through."

Stewart was Davis Hospital's first patient navigator and worked only with women diagnosed with breast cancer. The program worked so well that this year hospital officials decided to expand it to all cancer patients.

"Basically, we just try to make the whole cancer process a little easier for the patient," said Lori Bodily, the new patient navigator at the hospital. She spent about 3½ years doing similar work as the quality of life relationship manager at the American Cancer Society before starting at Davis Hospital nearly two months ago.

Along with any questions that patients might have, a navigator can also help overcome barriers to treatment, like lack of transportation, child care, or money for treatment.

For example, she is working with one man who is undergoing radiation therapy. He is from Nevada, and has to drive more than two hours each way to reach the hospital every day. Bodily was able to arrange for a discounted rate at the Days Inn in Clearfield during the six weeks he is in treatment.

The number of patient navigators at area hospitals is growing, said Megan Moon, who fills the role at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.

"It's kind of like a navigator in a car," she said. "I can tell which way to go if you come upon a roadblock and how you can find what you need."

Cancer patients typically have at least three doctors: surgeons, chemotherapy oncologists, radiation oncologists and others. It's difficult to keep track of so many people and appointments, and patients sometimes feel silly asking doctors some types of questions.

Other questions simply fall outside a doctor's area of expertise, like how to pay for treatment. Even those who do have insurance can be financially overwhelmed by co-pays, matching payments and prescriptions, especially if the cancer is advanced.

A patient navigator can often guide people to grants and other types of financial help many people don't know about.

Kotter had a network of family and friends who could support her during her treatment. She went through a lumpectomy to remove the tumor in her breast and three months of radiation, but in February her doctors declared her cancer-free.

"There was no question I had that seemed to be a burden to them, or they've heard it over and over again," she said. "They were very, very helpful and supportive."

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

New patient navigator at Davis Hospital

"We are fortunate to have such a highly talented navigator who can assist patients and their families once they receive a cancer diagnosis," said Michael Jensen, Davis Hospital CEO. "She is an expert at putting together a diagnosis with the appropriate educational and financial resources, which helps cancer patients ease their minds and makes their recovery process a little less stressful."