Sherry Lawrence keeps pretty busy in her role within Hancock Health. As a registered nurse, oncology-certified nurse, nurse navigator, and sexual assault nurse examiner, she has all the qualifications to make sure you get the care you need. Sherry helps patients navigate the complex world of a cancer diagnosis at the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center. We sat down with her to get all the answers about what a nurse navigator does and how Sherry makes health possible for patients.
Q: So, Sherry, tell us a little bit about a nurse navigator’s duties.
A: Our job is to meet with each new patient who either has a cancer diagnosis or is anticipating one. We are there to gather information on a patient’s family history of cancer and be with them during consults with the oncologist. We take detailed notes so the family can focus on just listening to the doctor, and after the consult we spend time with them and answer any questions they may have. We coordinate further imaging needs, possibly schedule a biopsy, and then, before bringing the patient back, we ensure the information we gathered is available for discussion. We are available for the patient 24/7 if they have needs or questions.
Q: You’re there for the patient every step of the way.
A: Exactly. We will meet back with the patient once a diagnosis is confirmed and talk to them about next steps. Sometimes we get to give good news that no cancer was found.
Q: I’m sure the days where you get to give good news are some of the best days.
A: For sure. I love being able to answer the patient’s questions and help them understand what their diagnosis means for them. And being able to tell them that the cancer has improved or is even gone entirely is always a great feeling.
Q: What else does your job entail?
A: A lot. We have daily phone calls to and from patients, and we order the genetic testing for patients and next-generation sequencing on tumors to look for any type of target on their cancer cells. Once there has been a diagnosis, there is still some wait time until treatment can happen, and it is our job to help the patient and family understand the reason for the delay. It could be waiting on genomic testing, prior approval from insurance companies, or any number of things. The frustration can really start to set in, and it’s our job to help the patient navigate that frustration.
Q: If a patient is frightened or concerned about their diagnosis, how do you help put them at ease?
A: Occasionally, it may just be as simple as staying quiet and allowing them to process so they can formulate questions easier. We also call the medical social worker to help them cope, as well. Sometimes it’s okay to just hold their hand and cry with them. The patient truly becomes part of your family, and what happens to them tugs at your heart and makes you more compassionate than you ever realized you could be.
Q: Do you have a favorite story from a patient interaction?
A: This one’s a little bittersweet, but a favorite story would be where I spent several phone calls and hours in person with an older woman who trusted me implicitly. We try to interact with the patients every time they are in office, and I’d spent a lot of time with this woman. Sadly, she did not survive her diagnosis. The following year during Nurse’s Week, I received a Daisy Award, which is a special honor for nurses who have gone above and beyond, and it was written by her. I considered it a divine intervention from heaven where she was still thanking me for what I did for her, even though she lost her fight. It was comforting to get this personal note even after she was gone. While she was alive, she brought in homemade caramels and just always wanted to know how I was doing. It was such a blessing to have cared for her.
Q: That’s such a beautiful memory to hold on to. I bet you’ve had a lot of patients over the years. How long have you worked with Hancock Health?
A: I’ve been working for Hancock Health for nine years this time around. Before, I worked here from 1973 to 1994. I’ve been with Hancock for thirty years total.
Q: Wow! That’s a long time. I’m sure you’ve had a lot of ups and downs in all those years.
A: Yes. There are days when you are certain you cannot do it one more day, then a patient or family member will say or do something extraordinary for you, and you just know you can continue on.
Q: Can you tell me about one of those times?
A: I had an older woman who was very well-supported by her family. One night, after hours, they needed a prescription for her, and I called multiple pharmacies trying to find someone who had this medication. It took a long time, but we finally got everything squared away. Fast forward several weeks, and my day was going very poorly. It was one of those non-stop days where there’s no time for lunch or even a bathroom break. But later that day, a package was delivered from the woman’s family, and it was filled with chocolate! It was exactly the pick-me-up I needed, and a reminder that these patients need someone who can go the extra mile for them. It’s one of my favorite work memories, and it turned a bad day into a good one.
Q: When work does get overwhelming, what do you like to do to unwind?
A: I love spending time with my grandchildren. We have a cabin in the woods in Vevay, Indiana, and we will make the two-hour trip for weekends. I try to spend time on the Ohio River with my kids who both have boats. I am also a reader, and I love non-fiction mysteries and medical non-fiction books.