Unique partnership with American Cancer Society provides access to wide range of resources
For Anne McNerney, helping newly diagnosed cancer patients navigate the often-confusing world of doctors’ appointments, chemotherapy treatments and radiation therapy sessions is her way of giving back. Diagnosed 13 years ago with breast cancer, she knows firsthand what people go through after hearing the words, “You have cancer.”
Ms. McNerney is the “patient navigator” at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center – a new position created through a unique partnership between the cancer center and the American Cancer Society. A Society employee, Ms. McNerney works in the cancer center, helping patients and their families access a wide range of resources and services available through the Society and the cancer center.
The 53-year-old breast cancer survivor is the first Society patient navigator working in a hospital in the American Cancer Society’s South Atlantic Division, which includes states from Maryland to Georgia, plus the District of Columbia.
“We are very proud and pleased to be the first cancer center in this division to take part in the American Cancer Society’s patient navigator program. Our patients really benefit from having a full-time employee available in the cancer center to answer their questions and remove any roadblocks that would prevent them from receiving treatment,” says Kevin J. Cullen, M.D., director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center and professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"The patient resource navigation program at the University of Maryland will lead the way in patient navigation within the South Atlantic Division and could easily be a best practice for the American Cancer Society," says Jack Shipkoski, chief executive officer for the Society's South Atlantic Division.
Ms. McNerney helps patients access support services at the University of Maryland Medical Center, such as nutrition counseling, physical therapy and social work, and assists them in finding transportation so that they can keep their medical appointments. She can arrange transportation through Road to Recovery, an American Cancer Society program in which drivers volunteer to ferry patients to and from their appointments. Another Society program, Look Good…Feel Better, provides women with free make-up and wigs, and skin-care tips to help improve their self-image.
The cancer center also offers a range of services to patients and their families, including genetic counseling, palliative care, symptom management and individual and family counseling.
But Ms. McNerney says some patients just need an empathetic ear. “One of the biggest things I can do is to listen,” she says.
“When you have just been diagnosed with cancer and are starting treatment, you don’t know what to expect. Will my hair fall out? How do I get a wig? How will I manage? I can help to answer their questions and allay their fears. People need to know that they can get through this. If I can do it, they can do it,” Ms. McNerney says. She has written a book about her experience with cancer, “The Gift of Cancer, A Call to Awakening.”
Stewart Greenebaum, a Baltimore-based real estate developer for whom the cancer center is named, says that most cancer patients are not aware of the services available to them and are ill-equipped to navigate the health care system on their own.
“You have to be very sophisticated or lucky to find your way through the system,” says Mr. Greenebaum, who has been raising funds to launch the navigator program in the Society's South Atlantic Division. “Most people who have been diagnosed with cancer are struggling to come to grips with their illness and really don’t know what to do. A patient navigator is a skilled professional who can connect patients with all kinds of resources in the community.”
Mr. Greenebaum, whose wife, Marlene, is a breast cancer survivor, adds, “If you don’t know where to go for help, you’re not going to get it.”
In addition to the hospital-based patient navigator program, the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center also offers navigator services to cancer patients who are diagnosed through its Baltimore City Cancer Program. Funded by the Maryland Cigarette Restitution Fund Program, the community-based program provides free breast and cervical cancer screening to uninsured, low-income city residents. More than 10,000 screenings have been conducted since 2002, with 46 people diagnosed with cancer and treated by University of Maryland specialists.
The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center is a nationally recognized leader in cancer diagnosis, treatment and research. With comprehensive programs for treating all types of cancer, it is a major referral center for patients in Maryland and throughout the region.
The American Cancer Society is a nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering from cancer through research, education, advocacy and service.
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