In this interview in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Judy Herrick, RN, OCN®, ONN-CG, the Supervisor of Support Services at UT Southwestern Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, discusses the role of oncology nurse navigation and support services in ensuring that patients with breast cancer receive optimal care during their treatment. Ms. Herrick also discusses the importance of patient education and shares strategies for utilizing available resources to address all facets of breast cancer care.
This interview has been conducted in partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). Recognized as one of the leading breast cancer organizations in the world, NBCF is Helping Women Now® by providing early detection, education, and support services to those affected by breast cancer. A recipient of Charity Navigator's highest 4-star rating for 14 years, NBCF provides support through their National Mammography Program, Patient Navigation, breast health education, and patient support programs. For more information, please visit https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/
Oncology Data Advisor: Welcome to Oncology Data Advisor. For our latest video in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I'm here today with Judy Herrick. Thank you so much for joining us.
Judy Herrick, RN, OCN®, ONN-CG: I'm Judy Herrick. I am an oncology nurse navigator and the Supervisor of Support Services here at UT Southwestern. I've been an oncology nurse for about 28 years, with a specialty in breast oncology for the last five years.
Oncology Data Advisor: What are some of the most challenging aspects of managing symptoms and quality of life for patients with breast cancer?
Ms. Herrick: I think there are several challenges that come up in managing symptoms for breast cancer patients as they go through their treatment. Each treatment modality comes with a very complex form of symptoms that they may have from surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or radiation. Trying to assist patients in staying proactive, educating themselves, and keeping their diet and hydration up is very important, as well as staying active. I don't encourage going out and running a mini marathon, but definitely staying active, such as walking every day, is important—just keeping up that movement, especially after surgery. There'll be a time when they won't be able to do their exercise shortly after surgery, but soon after surgery, once those drains are removed, they can certainly start ramping up some of their exercises.
With symptom management and optimizing quality of life, developing a support group is also important. Who are the members of their support network that can help them? As women, we are often the caregivers, but we need to have our own support groups too. I highly recommend women to know who's going to be their support throughout this treatment, because it is an extended amount of time as they go through the different modalities of breast cancer.
Oncology Data Advisor: What are some of the questions that you commonly encounter from patients with breast cancer about managing symptoms, and how do you counsel them?
Ms. Herrick: There are several questions that come up, especially from the newly diagnosed patients. "How do I talk to my children?" "How do I continue working?" "How do I deal with the side effects?" "Am I going to lose my hair?" "Am I still going to be able to get up and go to work every day?" It's really just breaking down each one of those and kind of working through those questions. Here at UT Southwestern, we have a lot of support. We may bring in our social workers to help walk through some of the "How do I talk to my children?" and "How do I manage my work-life balance?" questions. Our nurse navigators and our clinic nurses all work with patients regarding symptom management and education. That is very key in how we counsel them. It's just taking that one step at a time, breaking each one of those questions down, and bringing together the resources we have and the resources they may have at home.
Oncology Data Advisor: Along those lines, what is the importance of patient education in improving their treatment experiences and outcomes?
Ms. Herrick: Patient education, to me, is the foundation of setting patients up successfully to get through treatment. The more they are educated, the better they can make informed decisions on their treatment plans. I encourage patients to be active participants in their treatment: to ask questions so they can understand not only the treatment plan but also the different stages of that treatment plan, the different drugs, and the side effects. If they're aware of just what's going on both immediately and in the long term, we can help them anticipate and be a little bit more proactive in their care. It's important just knowing things like, "If I'm going to take chemotherapy and I know that this is going to make me sick to my stomach, I want to proactively take medicine to manage that nausea or to hydrate before I get my chemotherapy to make sure that my body is able to process these drugs out." It's the same thing with radiation and surgery: "I want to be at my healthiest to try and work through that."
Education is really just a foundation that helps patients manage all these symptoms. We have quite a bit of support here in regard to our nurse navigators and clinic nurses, who do quite a bit of patient education. We're also fortunate to have oncology pharmacists in each clinic who work with the patients to help educate them so they understand the medications, the side effects, and how to manage those side effects, as well.
Oncology Data Advisor: Finally, do you have any advice for oncology nurses and other members of the cancer care team in helping to optimize their patients' quality of life?
Ms. Herrick: Something that is so important is bringing in all the support that you can. Of course, here at UT Southwestern, we do have a really good, robust support service. We have our nurse navigators that make first contact with our patients, help walk that path with them patient throughout their treatment, and touch base with them at transitions. We have our social workers who do a phenomenal job at walking them through the emotional, mental aspect of "How am I dealing with this? How do I talk to my children, my spouse? What do I do with work?" We have our dieticians who are phenomenal in regards to managing diet. "How do I encompass a good, healthy diet, not a fad diet, during my treatment phase?" This goes on into survivorship as well. "How do I go forward once I'm past treatment?"
Then we have a really phenomenal chaplain and a spiritual guidance group as well. Even in the community, there are resources out there, but I do want to encourage everybody to at least bring in those navigators and bring in those social workers. They really do add that extra layer of support for patients to improve quality of life and to give them those things that often get missed in treatment. The clinic and the providers want to make sure that we get them through their treatment and that day-to-day, but there's so much more complexity to the patient: considering the spiritual aspect, the mind, and the body and bringing it all together. If we can bring support services in as much as possible, that is really important.
Oncology Data Advisor: Well, thank you so much for sharing all this great advice with us today.
Ms. Herrick: Thank you. I appreciate taking the time. Thank you.
About Judy Herrick
Judy Herrick, RN, OCN®, ONN-CG, is an oncology nurse navigator and the Supervisor of Support Services at UT Southwestern Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she specializes in the treatment and supportive care of patients with breast cancer.
Transcript edited for clarity. Any views expressed above are the speaker's own and do not necessarily reflect those of i3 Health.