Nurse Stories: Angela
Oncology Nurse Navigators
Changing lives, one call at a time.
A cancer diagnosis is devastating for patients, but helping them find emotional relief amid the chaos of the disease can make a big difference.
That's the view of Angela, a nurse navigator with Lash Group, who has made it her life's work to help cancer patients cope with their diagnosis and find a new sense of normalcy. After spending nearly 20 years as a chemotherapy nurse in a clinic, she transitioned to telehealth nursing in 2015 to support one of Lash Group's many medication adherence programs supporting oncology patients.
“I took care of a cancer patient in nursing school once and was completely inspired by their courage and attitude in the midst of dealing with cancer," she says. “That experience gave me a new perspective, and I just felt drawn to work in oncology. For me, it became more of a ministry. From the clinic to patient adherence, that calling has been a constant in my career."
Experienced support through individual barriers
Since joining Lash Group, Angela has had a unique opportunity to offer that same degree of compassionate care—but instead of doing it in person, she now works by phone from her home office in Georgia.
Each day, she collaborates with a team of three other remote nurse navigators to take inbound and outbound calls with patients who are facing life-threatening cancer diagnoses such as leukemia, multiple myeloma or melanoma. Depending on patients' needs, the navigators connect them or their caregivers with resources, referrals, education and a listening ear so that they can get the lifesaving treatments they need—regardless of their individual barriers.
How does Angela's two decades in the clinic setting prepare her to help? Her oncology experience equips her with the knowledge that these patients may be struggling with more complex barriers to care (e.g., financial toxicity and the need for wraparound services like transportation and help covering the cost of wigs or even groceries).
“Even on the very first call, you often can make a connection with a patient, and it seems like you're face-to-face."
In fact, Angela is part of a pretty special group: of Lash Group's 600+ telehealth and field nurses, more than half are certified in their disease state or specialty, and all oncology nurses hold the Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN®) designation. And for one program, oncology nurse advocates' knowledge of the patient's specific issue was the most highly rated attribute by patients, providers and caregivers.
“I provide patients with support, but that looks different for different people," Angela says. “For everyone, I generally check in on patients to see how they're doing on the medicine and how things are going for them. But individually, I may try to find a third-party nonprofit that they can contact for emotional or financial support. And then, the next time I call them, I find out if they were able to get some help through those resources. If not, we continue to look for something that will help."
Simple moments mean the most
Even though the support takes place over the phone, it's as strong as ever, Angela says.
“Even on the very first call, you often can make a connection with a patient, and it seems like you're face-to-face," she says. “If I can bring a kind, calm, peaceful and caring presence over the phone—that really comes across on the other end, hopefully to make the patient's day a little better."
It's the simple moments that stand out to her the most, such as patients' gratitude and positivity through life's darkest moments. They remind her each day that she's in the right place, doing the right work.
“I had a gentleman I spoke with who was really struggling—upset that he couldn't do the things he once could do," she says. “So I just talked with him, asked questions, invited him to share his experience and gave him affirmation and encouragement. At the end of the call, he said 'I appreciate you listening and talking with me about that.'
“Those are the times when I'm really grateful that I can help patients through whatever they're struggling with—whether it's physically or emotionally. Their life isn't what it was, and that's hard for them."
Training to improve “phoneside" manner
To make the most of her conversations with patients, Angela applies her training from Lash Group. Nurse navigators learn motivational interviewing skills to help keep the communication lines open and improve their "phoneside" manner.
“Lash Group has really helped us refine our approach for speaking with patients over the phone in a way that helps them feel reassured and that they've got someone in their corner," she says. “For example, we've been trained to focus on open-ended questions to keep the conversation going.
Without those techniques, the gentleman wouldn't have opened up to me like that. It creates a whole new opportunity to get people talking about problems they bottle up inside, or didn't even realize they had."
And indeed, that's the power of patient adherence programs, something Angela thinks not enough people know about. Call by call, she aims to change that.
“There's this whole other world out there with patient assistance programs, and they're really an amazing benefit to have," she says. “I've shared it even with people I know personally, encouraging them to call pharmaceutical companies or look online to see if there's a program for them. And really, it has made me super thankful for this job. I can help patients in a different—but equally fulfilling—way. And that's what matters."