W 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.”
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.