Oncology Nurse Navigators' Vital Role in Supporting Cancer Patients

Author: Erin Thomson

Oncology nurse navigators are professional registered nurses with oncology-specific clinical knowledge. They assist patients, families, and caregivers in overcoming any obstacles in their cancer journey.

The navigators at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint and the McLaren Proton Therapy Center are an essential part of the patient’s plan of care and the point of contact to help facilitate timely and quality access to care.They also build lasting relationships and ease the stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis. 

“As a nurse navigator, I see the patient through their oncology journey,” said Drita Nuculovic, RN, proton research nurse navigator at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint and McLaren Proton Therapy Center. “In radiation oncology/proton therapy, we are with the patient from their first contact with the radiation oncology department until treatment is complete and sometimes after. Our role is to be the contact for any questions or issues that may arise. It is my job to make sure the patient does not get lost in the system, assist with any needs such as transportation and scheduling, and provide emotional and family support.”

Navigators meet with patients at the beginning of their diagnosis and can work closely throughout the entire treatment process to answer any initial questions, assist with scheduling appointments, and can also attend appointments with the patient for added support.

“As a proton patient navigator, I meet with patients at consult and then again after simulation to coordinate with the team to make sure everything goes smooth for the patient and family,” said Nicole Cygar, RT, proton navigator and radiation therapist at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint and McLaren Proton Therapy Center. “I set up and confirm all their appointments before they start the radiation process, and I am their contact person for support and any questions they may have throughout the process.”

Carrie Haneckow, RN, oncology nurse navigator at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint, provides education to her patients on their cancer diagnosis and most importantly, reassures them that she is there every step of the way. “Regardless of a patient’s needs, it is important for them to know that I am here, and whatever comes up, we can go through it and figure it out together. The patient having a person they can rely on and trust is so important as this is a major journey for all patients. I can be that person who is there for them,” said Haneckow. 

Studies suggest having an oncology nurse navigator as part of the plan of care creates an early and trusting connection with patients and their family caregivers, giving them better access to high-quality care, reducing stress, improving self-care, and avoiding complications. 

“The kindness and gratefulness of patients is by far the most gratifying part of my job,” said Nuculovic. “Patients are going through the most difficult time of their lives and are amazingly so strong and resilient.”

You can meet additional cancer care team members and learn more about the comprehensive cancer services offered at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint here or the McLaren Proton Therapy Center here.