Navigating a cancer diagnosis can be daunting

The Comprehensive Cancer Center at Catawba Valley Medical Center offers a continuum of care that includes state-of-the-art diagnostics and treatment, and staff members who go above and beyond for every oncology patient. Tina Watts, MSN, RN, OCN, Patient Care Manager for CVMC’s Oncology Department, is one such exceptional staff member.

Watts began her career in 1994 as a neonatal nurse. However, she decided to switch to oncology specialty in 2004 and start her journey as an oncology navigator. “I was drawn to patients because of their vulnerability and lack of resources,” she said. In 2016, Watts joined CVMC as Patient Care Manager and has held that position ever since. Soon, she will transition to a new role at the CVMC as Clinical Care Manager in Oncology and Perfusion. As Watts moves into her new position, she was asked to recap her career and provide her knowledge and insights as it relates to navigating a cancer diagnosis as a Catawba County resident.

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What made you want to become an oncology nurse?

“Navigating a cancer diagnosis is difficult for everyone. For a layman, who has no medical knowledge, navigating this trip and trying to figure out the schedule, getting his PET scan, when his appointments are, how to coordinate everything, the travel accommodations – that’s daunting, it’s very, very difficult. People will wonder, ‘Why am I waiting three days for a pathology report?’ – They do not understand. I think it’s one of those situations where “you don’t know what you don’t know”, so who better to help them than someone who has the knowledge and can walk them through the process? »

What does your day-to-day look like as a patient care manager?

“I live on our oncology floor and we usually collaborate on care in the mornings when the oncology doctors walk around the patient group. We do rounds with the doctor and collaborate care for each patient. When doctors return to the office, we stay here and manage patients – whether it’s helping coordinate their care while they’re here in the hospital, advocating for them, communicating with oncologists or advanced practice providers, and then we manage what their care will look like when it’s time for them to leave the hospital. These patients may have many appointments, and we try to coordinate all of this with them or with the person transporting them. We ensure that all their appointments are coordinated on different days and do not overlap. If they have to travel to get here, we try to schedule their appointments in such a way as to reduce their travel. Then we hand over those oncology patients to our cancer navigators so they continue to have a point of contact when they leave the hospital.

What are the biggest barriers facing cancer patients in Catawba County?

“One of the biggest barriers we see for patients with any type of cancer, first and foremost, is financial barriers. Cancer costs money. Whether it’s transportation, specific medications, multiple doctor’s appointments, X-ray appointments or other miscellaneous appointments. The next barrier, often, is a knowledge barrier. It’s often said, and I honestly think it’s true, when you hear the words “you have cancer”, usually you don’t hear anything after that. A very small percentage is heard. So when a doctor says, “You have cancer and here’s what we’re going to do,” patients often don’t hear that blueprint. They focus on the fact that they just found out they have cancer. Again, you don’t know what you don’t know, and these patients just don’t know. They don’t know how to navigate the system. They don’t know what it means if their cancer may have spread outside the primary area. Patients with lung cancer that has metastasized to the brain will often say “I have brain cancer”, but that’s not the case: they have lung cancer that has spread to the brain . They don’t understand that. One of my tasks is to help them understand what this means. My personal philosophy is that an educated mind is the best decision maker, so I feel like if we could educate patients about everything they need to know about their cancer diagnosis and all that awaits them, they will then be able to make good decisions for their care plan. »

What is the best advice you could give the citizens of Catawba County regarding their health?

“I would say most definitely keep your wellness screenings – know what it is; make sure your provider is told what this means, make sure you are told when you should start certain cancer screenings. For example, if you have a relative who was diagnosed with cancer earlier than expected, insurance will often cover your screenings sooner. Your wellness screenings are first and foremost. Also, constant medical care where you can have open discussions is very important. Some health care issues are difficult to address, but they are very important. It is therefore necessary to be frank and honest with your supplier and to have regular meetings. I also think the two most important things we tell patients all the time are that a healthy diet and some type of regular exercise are essential to your well-being.

What is one of the most important things you have learned from working with cancer patients?

“The cancer population, in general, has a lot of needs. It is a vulnerable population. What I’ve learned is to listen to your body, know when things are unusual, and point them out. Don’t ignore your symptoms. I had a patient here whose motto was “live well and love well” and during his time here that value was instilled in many of us. You should live well and love well every day because at any moment you could have a diagnosis for yourself or a loved one that would change your life forever.

To learn more about the cancer services provided at Catawba Valley Medical Center, visit CatawbaValleyHealth.org/Cancer

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