Can you ace this triple negative breast cancer quiz?

With Breast Cancer Awareness Month upon us, it’s as important as ever to ensure you have the latest breast cancer facts. Take this short quiz to boost your knowledge of triple negative breast cancer — one of the disease’s rarest and deadliest forms.

Learn more about breast cancer prevention, treatment and support → CLICK HERE.

Debunking breast cancer myths

Women are constantly bombarded on what they can do to prevent breast cancer. However, there is no definitive known way to prevent the disease. One in eight women in the United States will develop some form of breast cancer.

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to several medical experts to address a few common breast cancer myths.

Myth: Mammograms cause breast cancer

Fact: Annual screenings are the key to finding breast cancer early. A mammogram is currently the best screening tool for finding breast cancer. It uses extremely low levels of radiation to create detailed images of the breast.

Mammogram
These mammograms show a normal breast (left) and a breast with cancer (right, white arrows). Image via Wikipedia.

On average, the total dose for a typical mammogram is about 0.4 mSv. People are normally exposed to an average of about 3 mSv of radiation each year from their natural surroundings. The dose of radiation from a mammogram is about the same amount of radiation averaged from natural surroundings over about 7 weeks.

The Mammography Quality Standards Act was created by the American College of Radiology (ACR) and passed by Congress to mandate rigorous guidelines for x-ray safety during mammography. The MQSA guidelines assure that mammography systems are safe and use the lowest dose of radiation possible. Patients should make sure they are being imaged at an ACR-accredited facility.

Dr. Correna Terrell, medical director of the breast imaging center at Houston Methodist West Hospital, recommends that women with an average risk of breast cancer begin annual mammograms at age 40. If you have additional risk factors, your physician may recommend mammograms beginning at an earlier age.

Myth: Sugar feeds cancer

Fact: Sugar does not spread cancer. However, if you have too much sugar in your diet, specifically simple sugars found in baked goods, this can cause weight gain. Weight gain overtime can lead to obesity and obesity has been linked to an increase risk of several cancers.

“Our bodies do need simple sugar, for energy,” says Renee Stubbins, registered dietician at the Houston Methodist Cancer Center. “The average American consumes over 130 pounds of sugar per year, or an extra 500 calories per day. The key to any healthy balanced diet is moderation,” Stubbins said.

80% of lumps are caused by non-cancerous changes in the breast Click To Tweet

Natural occurring sugars like those found in fruit, vegetables and whole grain are all needed to help maintain muscle and weight during cancer treatment and have been shown to help fight cancer. Avoiding processed sugars that are found in cakes, baked goods and desserts and sticking with fruits and vegetables helps maintain a healthy weight and prevents health issues in the future.

Myth: All breast lumps are cancerous

Fact: In general, 80 percent of lumps are caused by non-cancerous changes in the breast. This percentage tends to fluctuate with age. As a woman ages, her risk of breast cancer increases. While the percentage of benign breast lumps in older women may be much lower than in younger women, it is still important for women to report breast abnormality to their physician. Only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer. If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or notice any changes in breast tissue, it should never be ignored.

Join us Saturday, May 2, 2015 at the Rice University Tudor Fieldhouse for a morning to kick-start a healthier lifestyle. Special guest, Ilona Carson of ABC-13, will be emceeing. Registrants will get the opportunity to learn healthy tips from primary care physicians, OB-GYN’s, breast care and health experts. The morning will also include a yoga session, menu ideas and giveaways.

CLICK HERE to register.

Cervical cancer: What women need to know

We all hate that dreaded “c” word. Yes, you know what I’m talking about: cancer. According to The American Cancer Society, an estimated 12,900 cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2015. Cervical cancer can be successfully treated if detected early.

Dr. Anuj Suri, gynecologic oncologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, gives insight on the disease and explains a curative treatment option women can undergo.

What causes cervical cancer?

Although cervical cancers start from pre-cancerous cells, only some women with these pre-cancers will develop cervical cancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. There are over 100 types of HPVs, 15 of which can cause cervical cancer.

While HPV can cause cervical cancer, there are other factors to consider. Smoking, a weakened immune system and giving birth at a young age are all risk factors.

How is cervical cancer detected?

One of the ways cervical cancer can be detected is by using a Pap smear. The goal of a Pap smear is to catch the pre-cancerous cells before they turn into an invasive cancer.

Radical trachelectomy
Radical trachelectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that involves the removal of the cervix, surrounding tissues and one-to-two centimeters of the vagina, but the uterus remains intact

Following guidelines by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Dr. Suri recommends that women between the ages of 21-29 get a pap smear every three years. For women between the ages 30-65, Pap smears should occur every three years (without HPV test) or every five years (with HPV test).

After the age of 65, pap smears are not needed unless the patient has a history of abnormal Pap smears. If a patient has an abnormal pap smear, the testing frequency changes.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Symptoms typically do not appear until the cancer has spread to other organs in the body. Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding between regular menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse or after menopause
  • Menstrual cycles that are longer and heavier than usual
  • Excess vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during sex

How is cervical cancer treated?

Cervical cancer is third most common cancer worldwide among women and can often be successfully treated if caught early. Most early stage cancers are treated with hysterectomy or radical hysterectomy. Since younger women who have not completed childbearing are being diagnosed with cervical cancer, fertility sparing options and treatments are becoming available. 

Radical trachelectomy, a robotic treatment, is a minimally invasive procedure that involves the removal of the cervix, surrounding tissues and one-to-two centimeters of the vagina. The uterus is then able to be re-attached to the vagina, allowing women to preserve their fertility and potentially bear children. Dr. Suri performs this procedure on women typically under the age of 35 who still want to have children.

Other treatment options include radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

What are male health warning signs?

Playwright George Bernard Shaw said that youth is wasted on the young. If you don’t understand what this means, you’re not 40 yet. Alas, having reached this milestone (a few years ago), I know perfectly well what it means.

Beyond things like not belonging to the “right” demographic advertisers covet or having 30-year-olds call you “sir,” the nagging aches, pains and medical issues that sometimes come with age are probably the worst things some men have to look forward to.

What are the health warning signs that things may not be right that every man should heed? I sat down with Dr. Timothy Boone, chairman of the Houston Methodist Department of Urology, to talk about men’s health – specifically an aging man’s health. Dr. Boone cautions that there are several warning signs that should send any man to visit their doctor right away.

“You should be aware of a strong family history of prostate cancer – mainly first-degree family members. So if you have a father, a brother or an uncle who’ve had prostate cancer you probably should get checked as early as 45 to 50 years old,” Dr. Boone said.

This doesn’t mean that men in their late 40s and early 50s without a history of prostate cancer shouldn’t have a conversation about a PSA test with their doctor – they should. PSA – or prostate-specific antigen – is a protein produced by cells in the prostate. An elevated level of PSA can sometimes point to cancer.

Perhaps a scarier warning sign something may be wrong is finding blood in your urine. Even if it’s not accompanied with pain, it’s still something you should get checked out immediately.

There are several warning signs that should send any man to visit their doctor right away Click To Tweet

“It could be something as simple as a small stone that isn’t really causing you any trouble. But it could also be something much more serious like bladder cancer – especially if you’re a smoker,” Dr. Boone said.

You should also pay attention to how often you’re urinating. “Frequent urination may be a sign of diabetes,” Dr. Boone said. “Diabetes can affect your bladder function if it gets out of control.”

If you’re feeling dehydrated and notice you’re going to the bathroom more than normal, you may want to call your doctor.

And while it’s probably no man’s favorite subject of discussion, if your erections are dropping off in terms of rigidity it’s probably time to make an appointment with your doctor.

“It’s an early warning sign of significant cardio vascular disease. In fact it may be the first sign because the blood vessels in the penis are so small they’re real sensitive to narrowing long before your cardiac vessels are,” Dr. Boone said. “Loss of erective function in men in their 40s and 50s warrants careful attention.”

Dr. Boone said that the best way to prevent some of these issues to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. “Weight loss, good diet and exercise all have preventative features relevant to urology.”

As to how do you get the younger generations to stop asking you about the Cold War, the first moon landing or disco … I can’t help you.

Lung cancer: myths vs. facts

s a part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we spend November recognizing all those whose lives have been impacted by this disease and educating ourselves about the risks, prevention, and treatment of this fatal disease.  

According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the deadliest cancer for men and women in the United States. In fact, more people die from lung cancer than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Despite being so prevalent, there are many misunderstandings about the disease. I talked to Dr. Eric Bernicker, thoracic oncologist at Houston Methodist Cancer Center, to debunk a few common lung cancer myths. 

Myth:  If you’ve smoked for years, the damage is done.

Fact: It’s never too late to quit smoking. It will take many years, but smokers can decrease their lung cancer risk to the normal level by quitting now. According to the American Cancer Society, within five years of quitting smoking, the lung cancer death rate for the average former pack-a-day smoker decreases by almost half.

One of the simplest, most effective things you can do to reduce lung cancer risk is to quit smoking Click To Tweet

Myth: Low-tar or light cigarettes are safer.

Fact: There is no such thing as a safe cigarette. Smoking low-tar or light cigarettes bring the same lung cancer risks as “normal” cigarettes.

Myth: Only smokers are at risk of getting lung cancer.

Fact: While the risk is higher for smokers, there is still a possibility that non-smokers will develop lung cancer. “At least ten percent of lung cancers arise in non-smokers through mechanisms that we have not yet figured out,” explained Dr. Bernicker. If you are a non-smoker and you develop a persistent and unexplained cough, he recommends seeing your primary care physician to rule out lung cancer.

Myth: The new e-cigarettes are risk-free and don’t cause cancer.

Fact: Because the risks associated with the inhalation of vaporized chemicals are unknown, there is not enough information to support the claim that e-cigarettes are risk free. Most oncologists do not feel that e-cigs are a safe alternative to smoking or should be used to help a smoker quit. 

Myth: Being diagnosed with lung cancer is a death sentence.

Fact: While it is true that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality, early detection is the key to treating lung cancer. “We hope that an expanding use of CT screening will allow the detection of lung cancer at an early stage and make an improvement in lung cancer mortality. They also hope that advances in understanding the molecular biology and immunology of cancer will lead to significant improvements in treating advanced lung disease,” said Dr. Bernicker.  

Get more information on lung cancer via the Houston Methodist Cancer Center and check out our Lung Cancer Awareness Pinterest board.

 Follow Houston Methodist’s board Lung Cancer Awareness on Pinterest.


10 things to know about lung cancer screenings

oughly 70 percent of lung cancer results from smoking; the other 30 percent has no identifiable cause. At Houston Methodist, the lung cancer screening program helps individuals who are at high risk for lung cancer receive a diagnosis and treatment plan at an early stage, when the disease is easier to treat and possibly cure.

I sat down with Dr. Reggie Munden, chair of the radiology department at Houston Methodist Hospital, and discussed 10 things people should know about the importance of lung cancer screenings.

1. Lung cancer screenings with computed tomography (CT) works and saves lives.

2. Screening benefits 55-74 year old current and former heavy smokers. For instance, one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years. 

3. A positive finding does not mean you have cancer, it means there are findings that could be cancerous and further testing will be needed.

4. The CT examination may detect significant diseases other than lung cancer.

5.  It is important to be screened at a facility with lung cancer screening experts.

70% of lung cancer results from smoking; the other 30% has no identifiable cause Click To Tweet

6. During the screening, the patient will undergo a low-dose, single-breath-hold CT scan of your lungs. The entire examination takes only a few seconds. Afterward, the radiologist reviews the images and issues a report of the findings. 

7. Findings on lung cancer CTs can range from no disease to findings very concerning for cancer. Based on previously published studies, more than 95 percent of the initially suspicious nodules identified within the lung are diagnosed as non-cancerous. 

8. The diagnosis of cancer is not made from the screening CT, but determined after further work up and usually requires a biopsy to confirm. 

9. The biggest determinants for lung cancer are age and long term-smoking. While some lung cancers are not related to cigarette smoking, there is no benefit to screening non-smokers for lung cancer. In fact, it is possible that screening people other than smokers could be more harmful than not screening. 

10. As of November 2014, lung cancer screening is covered by some insurance plans. Medicare announced plans to begin coverage for lung cancer screening for participants 65 years or older.

Our program provides a full service, multidisciplinary approach to lung cancer screening. This is important because screening CTs detect many significant diseases other than lung cancer and our center will be able to manage the whole patient. To get more info about lung cancer screenings at Houston Methodist, call 713.441.5864.

The trouble with e-cigarettes

Growing up I was a big fan of bubble gum cigarettes – basically a pink bubble gum stick coated with powdered sugar and wrapped in a faux cigarette wrapper. After blowing intensely into the gum, you’d usually produce a small puff of “smoke” before unwrapping the gum and chewing it. My fascination with these bubble gum cigarettes was more a result of my love of sweets than a latent desire to smoke.

Today’s youth are also being tempted to emulate this very dangerous habit by e-cigarette manufacturers. E-cigarettes are cigarette-shaped devices used to deliver nicotine to the user by way of vapors instead of smoke. They are often marketed as a smoking cecession device and as a healthier option to cigarettes. The first e-cigarettes were introduced in 2007.

“E-cigarettes are still fairly new and there have been a few concerns about them,” says Dr. Adelola Ashaye who does smoking cessation counseling. “I generally don’t recommend them as I think additional research is warranted.”

Sage advice, but advice that is being ignored by many young people as evidence is mounting that e-cigarettes often serve as a gateway to other tobacco products. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “E-cigarette experimentation and recent use doubled among U.S. middle and high school students during 2011–2012, resulting in an estimated 1.78 million students having ever used e-cigarettes as of 2012.”

According to the CDC report almost 10 percent of these students who reported using e-cigarettes had never smoked traditional cigarettes before. In other words, they were introduced to smoking by e-cigarettes.

ecigspic
Just because e-cigarettes aren’t traditional cigarettes doesn’t mean they’re automatically safe (Click the graphic to see a full version)

The American Heart Association (AHA) is taking no chances and just called for state and federal laws and regulations that would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors as part of its recently released policy statement on e-cigarettes. “There is a concern among public health advocates that e-cigarettes could increase nicotine addiction and serve as a gateway for the use of tobacco products, particularly among youth” the AHA writes.

Youth in my day had to deal with cavities and being picked last for kickball if they chose to imitate the nasty habit of smoking by chewing too much bubble gum. However, today’s youth who choose to partake in this activity could be facing more severe consequences.

The CDC report says that increased use of e-cigarettes among youth “is a serious concern because the overall impact of e-cigarette use on public health remains uncertain. In youths, concerns include the potential negative impact of nicotine on adolescent brain development, as well as the risk for nicotine addiction and initiation of the use of conventional cigarettes or other tobacco products.”

Increasing numbers of teens are being introduced to smoking via e-cigarettes Click To Tweet

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has oversight over any tobacco product in the United States, e-cigarettes fall outside of its jurisdiction as they contain no actual tobacco. As a result tobacco companies that manufacture e-cigarettes “have been rapidly expanding using aggressive marketing messages similar to those used to promote cigarettes in the 1950s and 1960s” according to a recent scientific review on e-cigarettes in Circulation Magazine. “E-cigarette advertising is on television and radio in many countries that have long banned similar advertising for cigarettes and other tobacco products and may be indirectly promoting smoking conventional cigarettes.”

In other words, tobacco companies are coming for you and your kids with clever marketing campaigns and by offering e-cigarettes in flavors like cotton candy and yep – bubble gum.

“It may be some time before we fully know the risks of using e-cigarettes, but it’s not too early to sit down with your kids to discuss the potential harm in using e-cigarettes and cigarettes, too,” Dr. Ashaye added.

For more information and tips on quitting, look to  our Kicking The Habit Pinterest board!

Follow Houston Methodist’s board Kicking The Habit on Pinterest.


Reviewed by Dr. Adelola Ashaye

Early lung cancer screenings improve treatment options

id you know lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States? Dr. Min Kim, head of thoracic surgery at Houston Methodist Hospital, takes care of patients with thoracic disease and performs research and trials to understand the mechanism involved in lung cancer metastasis. I recently sat down with Dr. Kim to talk about the current state and future of lung cancer.

Lung cancer kills 160,000 Americans a year and we’re seeing about 200,000 newly diagnosed cases a year Click To Tweet
Min P. Kim, M.D
Dr. Min Kim

Lung cancer takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined in the United States. In the last 35 years, the overall survival rate in lung cancer patients has only improved by about four to five percent. Why? 

Dr. Kim: The main reason for such poor overall survival is that by the time patients with lung cancer see a doctor, the majority of those patients have metastatic disease. We have effective treatments for early stage lung cancer but for patients with metastatic disease, there are few effective treatments available.

This has led me to devote my scientific career to the study of cancer metastasis. I have recently developed a 4D model that can mimic the biology of cancer progression. My hope is that this model can help us better understand the biology of cancer progression and ultimately develop treatments to stop metastasis.

How have you seen surgical treatment options evolve?

Dr. Kim: For patients with early stage lung cancer, we have developed minimally invasive approaches to treat lung cancer. There are two main minimally invasive approaches that are utilized at Houston Methodist Hospital. We are performing both video assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) lung resection as well as robot-assisted lung resection. Both approaches provide our patients with significantly fewer complications, less pain and faster recovery compared to the traditional open surgery.  

Lung cancer kills nearly 160,000 Americans a year and we’re seeing about 200,000 newly diagnosed cases a year. Do you think more people need to be screened in order to improve survival rates?

Dr. Kim: Yes. Recent low-dose computed tomographic (CT) screening for people who are at high risk for developing lung cancer has shown that screening will reduce the chance of dying from lung cancer by 20 percent. I advocate anyone who has a significant smoking history to undergo a screening CT scan. This will allow the person to get diagnosed with early stage lung cancer, which can be treated and potentially cured with surgery.

Low-dose CT scans can reduce the chance of dying from lung cancer by 20% Click To Tweet

In addition to screening for people with a significant history of smoking, I advocate for people to never smoke. Recently there has been a decrease in the death rate from lung cancer and this is due to a decrease in the number of smokers. If no one smokes, lung cancer can become a rare disease.

You still have several more decades of being in practice. What’s your hope by the time you retire? 

Dr. Kim: My hope is that by the time that I retire, lung cancer will become a chronic disease and people will no longer die from this disease.

lung cancer infographic

4 things you probably didn’t know about breast cancer

or Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we reached out to Houston Methodist Hospital doctors and staff to answer four questions surrounding breast cancer.

 

1. What is triple negative breast cancer?
Dr. Angel Rodriguez
, breast medical oncologist and director of the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Clinic 

There are approximately 42,000 new cases of triple negative breast cancer diagnosed in the United States each year; about 20 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. Triple negative breast cancer is distinguished from other cancers in that it does not express the genes for estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and HER2 negative. Meaning, your pathology report would come back saying you were negative for ER- (estrogen receptors), PR- (progesterone receptors), and HER2- (HER2). Testing negative for all three of these hormones means the cancer is triple-negative and will not respond to hormonal therapy or HER2 directed therapies, such as Herceptin.

Triple negative breast cancer makes up 20% of all breast cancer diagnoses Click To Tweet

Triple negative breast cancer is treatable, but it has the highest rate of recurrence. We are taking what we know in the lab to provide patients with better options with less toxicity to treat this aggressive disease.

2. What is the BRCA gene and who is at risk?
Kate Dempsey, genetics counselor in the Houston Methodist Cancer Center

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are just two of the 25,000 genes in our bodies. Each gene has a specific job, ranging from telling us what our eye color should be to how we should grow. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two genes that are responsible for protecting us from cancer. They help stop tumors from growing and developing. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are found in every cell in our body, but work mainly in breast and ovary tissue. They serve as one of the “spellchecks” for our genetic information. As our cells grow, divide, and age, there can be changes to the genetic information in that cell. BRCA1 and BRCA2 work with a number of other genes to catch these changes, and signal for their repair.

A mutation can cause BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes to no longer function properly. When this happens, any changed genetic information is not repaired as it should be, which can lead to a cancer.

Only 5-10 percent of breast cancer is hereditary. Of all of hereditary breast cancer, approximately 70 percent is caused by mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2. Approximately 1/300-1/500 individuals carry a mutation in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

5-10% of breast cancer is hereditary and 70% of hereditary cases are caused by BRCA mutations Click To Tweet

Individuals with a personal or family history of the one or more of the following may be at risk to have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation:

  • Breast cancer diagnosed at or under the age of 50
  • Multiple breast cancers in one or both breasts
  • Triple negative breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Breast cancer at any age with one or more relative with breast or ovarian cancer
  • Male breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry (1 in 40 individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry carry a mutation in either BRCA1 or BRCA2)

We encourage you to speak to a high-risk breast cancer physician or a genetic counselor about your family history. They will help you determine if genetic testing is right for you or your family, as well as help you develop a personalized cancer screening recommendations.

3. What are some tips when going through chemotherapy?
Jennifer Berry, registered nurse and director of infusion services in the Houston Methodist Cancer Center

  • Stay active and maintain your normal routine and schedule
  • Wear a button down or loose fitting shirt to your infusion appointment to allow easy access to your port
  • Having your labs done the day before chemotherapy will help decrease the wait time the day of your infusion
  • Schedule downtime for yourself
  • Be sure to drink lots of fluids
  • Reward yourself for milestones by doing something special to celebrate
  • Give your body at least six months before you start feeling back to normal

4. When is radiation therapy beneficial for women with breast cancer?
Dr. Bin Teh
, radiation oncologist at Houston Methodist Hospital

Radiation therapy shrinks the tumor and kills cancer cells. Radiation to the breast is often given after breast-conserving surgery to help lower the chance that cancer will come back in the breast or nearby lymph nodes. It may also be recommended after mastectomy in patients either with a cancer larger than 5 cm, or when cancer is found in the lymph nodes.  It is also used to treat breast cancer that has spread to other areas, for example to the bones or brain.

Have no fear, the navigator is here!

hen Debbie Drury was 12 years old, she remembers her grandmother pulling her aside and saying those dreadful words, “I have cancer.” At that very moment, Debbie learned that cancer was not something to fear but something to work around.

When she graduated from nursing school, there was an open position in a cancer unit. Immediately, Debbie knew that was the place for her. She envisioned herself working with her grandmother and so many fighters just like her. While working on the inpatient floor, Debbie discovered she had a way of breaking down emotional barriers for patients and was able to help them cope.

“What I found is that 99 percent of the time, a patient’s negative attitude toward their treatment or staff is really not the patient being difficult,” Debbie said. “It is the frustration of dealing with a situation they do not fully understand, anger at the diagnosis, and most importantly, fear.”

Most of the time, a patient's negative attitude toward others is tied to frustration, anger and fear Click To Tweet

She knew helping people with cancer was her calling, and wanted to be their rock and support throughout their difficult journey. Being a patient navigator at Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital was the best way to fulfill that desire.

Debbie answered some questions to shine a light on this services we offer at all Houston Methodist locations.

What is a patient navigator?

A patient navigator is someone who helps newly diagnosed patients overcome barriers after hearing the devastating news. For many patients, navigating through this journey can be overwhelming. We want to be viewed as stress relievers for our patients, sort of like a one stop shop to answer their questions. 

What does a typical day look like for a navigator?

No two days are ever the same. I answer patient phone calls to help with their questions, help with scheduling issues, visit patients who are in the hospital receiving treatment and assist patients with outside resources like wig shops, mastectomy garments and support groups. I tell my patients if they have a question, just ask the navigator. I strive to make their experience as smooth as possible. If my patients can adjust their lives to beating cancer, I can adjust my day to meet their needs.

What role do you play when breast cancer has been diagnosed?

Breast cancer is unique because it is messing with the most visible sign to the world that you are a woman. Patients are often apprehensive when trying to make good decisions regarding their treatment plan because they don’t understand why this is happening to them. These women benefit from a lot of conversations reiterating the why’s, what’s and how’s of treatment choices. Shortly after the patient receives her diagnosis is when the patient and navigator talk the most. Education is our best tool. We walk them through our services and ways we can help them overcome obstacles. Each patient will work with their oncologists on a specific treatment plan, but the patient navigator will assist with getting appointment times, phone numbers and how to get your test results to the appropriate doctor. I work with the breast cancer staff, imaging department, surgery, infusion, physician offices, financial counseling, social services, support group volunteers or anyone who touches the lives of our patient.

What do you like most about your job?

I find joy in being the stress reliever. I love helping people overcome the issues that are getting in the way of their treatment plans. There are times when I can hear stress in a person’s voice at the beginning of a phone call and a calming tone by the end. Empowering my patients is what gets me up in the morning and excited to get to work. It is extremely rewarding to feel like you had a small part in making this situation a little easier.

How is the nurse navigator program at Houston Methodist different from other programs?

Our program is different than others because the navigator role is the very definition of our I CARE values. We embrace the whole person and strive to not only treat the disease but help serve a person in crisis. The patient is at the center of whatever we do and because of that, the bonds we form with our patients are unbreakable.