When a woman is informed that she has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, she typically goes into a state of mental shock. “You’ve made a mistake”, “Why me?”, and, “Am I going to live?” are just a few of the common thoughts that spin through a woman’s mind. Since every woman is unique, the approach to guiding a woman through the process of understanding her diagnosis and her treatment options must be individualized. However, experience has taught us that there are a series of helpful steps that minimize the stress in the journey from just being diagnosed to the successful completion of treatment.
We prided ourselves on our ability to provide newly diagnosed breast cancer patients with immediate and comprehensive explanations about their breast cancer. We learn that most women are not ready to absorb these intricate details in the first days after being diagnosed. We still see the patient and her family immediately following diagnosis and attempt to answer all questions. Now, however, a major focus of the initial discussion is to ensure that the patient is emotionally prepared to go forward with the process.
An essential component of the support services offered at our center is our Breast Nurse Navigator. She is a trained professional that is a supporter of the breast cancer patient and her family in understanding and coping with the strong emotions that accompany a breast cancer diagnosis; she remains a constant caregiver and overseer of the patient’s and her family’s educational, emotional, and social needs. Our navigator is with the patient at the time of diagnosis, and follows the patient through the entire treatment process and beyond. They often spend hours with newly diagnosed patients. In most cases they can prepare the patient to go forward with confidence, but some patients need more help. In situations in which professional support is needed, it is often the volunteer who identifies the need for a referral to a social worker.
Within 48 hours of being diagnosed, most women are ready to focus on their treatment options. Before reviewing these options, it is essential that a woman has a clear understanding of her cancer diagnosis. A first question that must be answered: Is my cancer invasive or non-invasive? With non-invasive cancers the initial focus of the discussion is whether or not the breast can be saved (in most cases it can). The amount of time consumed to make a decision is less of an issue since these cancers are almost always curable.
With invasive cancers time is an issue; however, the process should not be rushed. It is essential that a woman take the time to fully understand the nature of her cancer, as well as all her treatment options. It is also essential that the treatment team have time to study the various clinical issues so that the most accurate treatment recommendations can be made. As a Paragon Breast Care patient, all newly diagnosed breast cancer patients are presented to a weekly treatment conference in which a radiologist re-reviews the mammograms, a pathologist re-reviews the slides, a surgeon presents the history and clinical findings, and oncologists (medical and radiation) are also present. Based on these findings the team formulates a treatment plan.