Thursday, October 15, 2015

Nurse helps patients navigate their cancer journey

Marcy Keltner, RN, is a patient navigator at CoxHealth Cancer Center Branson. 

A cancer diagnosis can be some of the toughest news a person will ever receive. After the initial shock begins to wear off, oftentimes many questions follow: Will the treatment have adverse effects? How will I afford the care I need? If I can’t work fulltime, how will I pay my bills? 

At CoxHealth Cancer Center Branson, Patient Navigator Marcy Keltner’s job is to help answer the questions and solve the problems many patients and their family members will face after a cancer diagnosis.

“My job is whatever the patient needs,” said Keltner, RN, who has been an oncology nurse for 38 years. “When someone hears the words ‘you have cancer,’ they often do not hear much beyond that moment. They are in shock and in a bit of a mental fog during the early part of their cancer journey. My job is to come alongside our patients and their family members and help them navigate through their journey. There are so many tasks that are completely normal in our everyday lives when we are healthy that suddenly become overwhelming when diagnosed with cancer.”

Much of Keltner’s job consists of helping patients connect dots, or connecting dots for them, whether it is finding financial assistance, arranging transportation to and from appointments, or simply answering questions about their treatment plan.

“I’m also available to help patients and family members fill out paperwork because when someone is battling cancer, paperwork is the last thing they want or need to be focusing their time and energy on,” she said. “I want to take as much stress off of their plate as I can by always being that resource. I’m here to do as much or as little as each patient needs.”

For patients diagnosed with breast cancer, Keltner is able to tell them about Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks (BCFO) and then she helps them connect to the local organization. BCFO, which is dedicated to individuals and families impacted by breast cancer, provides financial assistance for a wide range of needs that a breast cancer patient may face, ranging from rent, utility and car payments to providing funds for clothing and birthday gifts for children affected by breast cancer.

Keltner’s focus is on more than finding funds.

“Much of what I do is simply listening to patients and their families and talking with them about what they can expect during each stage of their journey,” she said.

Keltner has been in nursing for more than 40 years, and when she started, she never planned to go into oncology nursing.

“When I first graduated from nursing school, I floated for a while, working wherever I was needed,” she explained. “I always thought I’d end up in orthopedics.”

After what Keltner described as a long, harsh stint in a cancer unit, she was floated to other areas again. She soon found herself wanting to return to the cancer ward.

“It had really grown on me,” she said, recalling back to her early days of nursing. “In oncology, we see the same people over and over again and we are able to build relationships. I made my decision to go into oncology nursing around the same time it was becoming more acceptable for nurses to show their human side and emotions. That change allowed me to more fully enjoy what I was doing. Relationships are a large part of oncology nursing and it has become my passion.”

While Keltner no longer provides hands-on patient care, as a patient navigator she continues to make a difference in the lives of her patients.

“I have the best job because everything I do is about helping someone,” she said. “For me, it is a privilege to be a part of their journey.”