When Life Kept Happening, Nurse Navigator Eased Burdens for Breast Cancer Patient

Author: Leslie Toldo

One thing Tonya Hull has always known how to do is stay busy.  The 49-year-old was used to living life full speed ahead. But in 2022, no matter how much she tried to fight it, something was slowing her down.

“I kept being super tired,” Tonya said. “I work multiple jobs. Being so tired was just not normal.”

Unable to tolerate the exhaustion, Tonya went to her doctor.  During the physical exam, her doctor felt something in her chest and ordered a mammogram.  Tonya had noticed some changes in her breast, but cancer was the furthest thing from her mind.

“I had never had a mammogram. Breast cancer wasn’t in my family,” Tonya said. “I realized one breast was larger than the other. I thought it was my cycle. I never thought it was cancer.” 

Much to her surprise, Tonya’s mammogram showed something suspicious, and she was called back for more tests.

“I think, at first, I was losing my mind.  I knew if they were telling me to come back, something was desperately wrong,” Tonya said.

Something was wrong. A biopsy and bloodwork revealed Tonya had a rare form of breast cancer.  She suddenly found herself in a whirlwind of appointments with doctors at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint.  

“I didn’t have a chance to think, but I don’t think I wanted to because it was overwhelming enough,” Tonya said.

However, Tonya soon learned she had someone on her team whose sole purpose was to help ease some of that stress- nurse navigator Anna Glasstetter, BSN, RN.

“I had never heard of a nurse navigator,” Tonya said. “She’s like a family member- a smart sister. I appreciate her so much. “

 Anna was there for Tonya in so many different ways.  All of the nurse navigators at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint are available to every single patient who goes there for care. A big part of that job is helping patients keep appointments and medical information straight, but more than that, navigators are there to answer questions, help with problems, and give emotional support.

“I can help with anything medically,” Anna said.  “But I am a jack of all trades. If you’re anxious, you can call me.  Family trouble. The car breaks down.  Money trouble.  Give me a call.  We’ll work out whatever comes up.”

Tonya had to stop working when she started treatment. Then, her husband lost his job. Anna helped with financial resources, like the McLaren Flint Foundation, to keep her bills paid. Anna even negotiated with creditors.

 “You need to feel like somebody else is fighting for you,” Tonya said.  “I don’t have the energy to sit on the phone with someone to fight about a bill. I am fighting for my life.”

Through chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, Anna was there for Tonya, literally helping her navigate a sea of information and tread through overwhelming fear.

“Tonya had a lot of obstacles to overcome personally, medically, and financially,” Anna said. “I am very proud of her. “

Her journey is not over yet, and Tonya knows Anna will be there every step of the way.  She says every patient should grab hold of a nurse navigator to guide them through the darkness of cancer. 

“God will put people in your path to help you.  You need your energy to heal and stay positive.  When you’re fighting cancer, it’s imperative that you stay positive.”

To learn more about the nurse navigators at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint, visit https://www.karmanos.org/karmanos/karmanos-cancer-institute-mclaren-flint-home.