The Oncology Nurse Navigator Program in Petoskey has been in effect for more than 10 years for breast cancer and lung cancer patients at McLaren Northern Michigan. And it’s incredible.

“They are numb,” says Melissa DeSimone, MSN, RN, OCN, CBCN, Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator. She’s describing a patient who has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. “They don’t remember much of what is said, and that is pretty normal. It’s overwhelming. It’s nice to be a second set of ears, support them, be there for them and help them through.”

And that’s exactly what DeSimone does as a nurse navigator for McLaren Northern Michigan. From diagnosis through the establishment of a plan of care and medical oncology, DeSimone is there. She sits in on medical meetings between doctors and patients. Helps with discovering and solving their financial dilemmas. Coordinates genetic appointments for patients’ families. Calls patients before surgery to answer questions. Visits them after surgery in the hospital. And even creates a customized care plan per patient that outlines every step of their journey to help understand their diagnosis and treatment plan.

“A big part of what I do is help with education,” explains DeSimone. “Making sure patients understand everything. If patients meet the criteria to see if they need chemo immediately, I am able to get that process started. So when they meet with medical oncology it’s ready, instead of needing to wait for approval.”

Read MyNorth Medical Insider for more tips from Northern Michigan specialists.

Annually, more than 2,000 people receive individualized positive support thanks to the Oncology Nurse Navigator Program, from across 22 Northern Michigan counties.

Each nurse navigator receives specialized training that complements their well-established healthcare careers. Not only do they help with patients’ physical symptoms, but they support their emotional, psychosocial and financial needs as well.

The financial impact is huge, says DeSimone. “If we identify a patient without insurance or with a large deductible, I help them enroll in assistance that helps patients get treatment who wouldn’t get treatment otherwise.”