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Published on January 11, 2022

man standing at window talking on phone

Navigators Help Patients Face Cancer

No two cancer patients are alike, but they all have one thing in common: they have questions.

That’s why the Avera Cancer Institute made its Cancer Navigation Center a robust, 24/7 service. Questions can come in the middle of the night. No matter when they arise — someone’s there for patients.

“Our patients don’t have to wait until their next appointment,” said Christina Early, Avera Cancer Institute Navigation Center Manager. “They can always count on hearing a real voice with answers, no matter when they call.”

Avera Cancer Institute began navigation services in 2007 with disease-specific navigators for breast, lung and gastrointestinal tract cancers. The Navigation Center established in 2016 is available to all patients, regardless of the type of cancer or where they get their care.

Navigators also help the doctors who serve patients, and the families and caregivers who call. It serves Avera Cancer Institute’s six regional locations and receives calls from across Avera’s footprint.

“The Avera Cancer Institute is there at pivotal moments in the cancer journey,” said Jamie Arens, MSW, Director of Cancer Clinic Services at Avera Cancer Institute. “Our navigation model is patient-centered and ensures cancer care 24/7.”

How Navigators Helped an Iowa Cancer Patient

Keith Van Kleek

Keith Van Kleek

Keith Van Kleek raises calves and cattle near Storm Lake, Iowa. In 2019, he was diagnosed with large B-cell lymphoma. His treatment – chemotherapy and radiation – led to neuropathy in his feet, severe nausea, dental pain and lots of anxiety.

“I’m a worrier by nature – but this was serious and I was scared,” he said. “I didn’t want to bother anyone, but I had a lot of questions about these symptoms.” Avera Cancer navigators reassured him – they said call, any time, for anything.

“I trusted them with my life,” Van Kleek said of the navigators. “They became like family to me.” From symptoms to anxiety – no matter what he faced, he knew he was a single phone call away from help.

Van Kleek is now more than a year out from his last scan that showed no cancer.

“Being out in the country, more than 100 miles from doctor – when you get scared you’re glad someone is there for you,” Van Kleek said.

A Patient Service Growing With Needs

Oncology-trained registered nurses and master's degree-prepared social workers answer the calls. The elite team’s accomplishments are many, including:

  • An average of more than 1,750 calls each month
  • More than 14,000 interventions provided, including education and treatment follow-ups
  • An increase of almost 100% in emotional-support calls during the pandemic

“Whether we call them or they call us, we’re not just ‘a voice on the phone.’ We have answers that lead to more successful treatment,” she said. “This core component of our care program contributes to better results.”

When navigators catch a symptom in time, they can guide the patient and help them avoid a visit to an emergency room, or worse.

“Our navigators coordinate treatment with each of the Avera Cancer Institute locations. It can help avoid admission or readmission,” said Arens.

Supporting Other Health Professionals

Every member of a cancer care team benefits from navigation. Since navigators respond day or night to patient needs, offer education and triage symptoms, the effort necessary to provide quality care is spread among many capable hands.

Avera uses disease-specific navigators, too. They get patients in for immediate assessments to reduce wait times. Both systems have the same goal: good outcomes for every cancer patient.

“Our navigation services ensure the wide, complex nature of oncology is not on the shoulders of a single physician or nurse,” said Kris Gaster, Avera Vice President of Outpatient Cancer Clinics. “It’s a proactive system that ensures quality and reduces stress.”

The free program serves all who call 605-322-3211 or 888-422-1410 or who visit Avera’s Prairie Center during business hours. Family members, caregivers and loved ones can also call with questions.

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Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

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