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Breast Care Patient Navigators Help Ease the Burden for Women in our Community

Featured in Palo Magazine

Anyone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer or informed of an abnormal mammogram can tell you those experiences are frightening and raise many questions.

Will I require surgery? Do I need radiation or chemotherapy? Who will care for my children? How will I get to appointments? What will my insurance pay for or not pay for? Am I going to be okay?

Navigating the healthcare system can be a daunting task under any circumstances, and language and cultural differences can make it even more difficult. That’s why Penn State Health St. Joseph has expanded its team of breast health care navigators to provide personalized services in both English and Spanish.

Ready to assist patients with every step through diagnosis, treatment and recovery, navigators counsel patients regarding care they’ll receive and what they might expect during treatment. They discuss treatment options, help women find insurance or financial assistance and coordinate medical appointments. They make referrals, help uninsured women get breast screenings and fit mastectomy patients with special undergarments and clothing.

Most importantly, St. Joseph navigators provide emotional support and understanding that, in some cases, comes from first-hand experience.

“I tell women that I understand exactly what they’re going through, because I do,” said Patient Navigator Maria Jimenez, a breast cancer survivor. “I am with them every step of the way because I went through the same thing they are going through.”

Other Penn State Health breast care navigators are Lisa Spencer and Anne Welsh, who supervises mammography at the hospital.

Spencer, the original oncology patient navigator, recognized that she needed help to effectively serve Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Hispanic patients.

“I found I could not serve the Hispanic community well,” said Spencer, who speaks limited Spanish. “But, Maria, who is a survivor herself, can offer services in a patient’s own language and that makes people very comfortable.”

Spencer and Jimenez are both trained mastectomy fitters and work closely with patients who have undergone surgery, are anticipating surgery or are in need of other, related services.

All the navigators work closely with Nancy Fonseca, St. Joseph’s oncology social worker and care manager, who also speaks fluent Spanish.

One of the most important parts of Fonseca’s job is helping women obtain some form of health insurance.

“We’re trying to help people to get onto some kind of insurance so they can take care of themselves,” she said.

She also works to assure that patients have the support they need during and after treatment, and to remove obstacles that may make it difficult for a woman to get the care that she needs.

Working together, Fonseca and the breast health care navigators care for the particular needs of each patient.

“As a team, we work to see how we can pool our resources to help patients,” said Fonseca, who also is a breast cancer survivor. “We feel proud of what we do because we are very personal with each patient. No patient goes home without the assistance that they need.”

Lisa Spencer, M.Ed., BSRT(T), OPN-CG, CN-BI, Breast Care Patient Navigator | Maria Jimenez, Patient Navigator

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and would like the support of a Patient Navigator, contact Lisa or and let her be your personal guide. 610-378-2959 | lspencer2@pennstatehealth.psu.edu mjimenez1@pennstatehealth.psu.edu

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