By Antoinette Lipani Solnik, RN, BSN, Gynecologic Oncology Nurse Navigator
When you’re a nurse, you know that every day you will touch a life or a life will touch yours – Unknown
In honor of oncology nurses appreciation month, I wanted to first thank all of the nurses who might be reading this blog. THANK YOU for your service to a very special and unique patient population. Our oncology nurses are truly the mainstay of the hospital and gynecologic practice I work in. We touch peoples lives everyday and more times than not, that care comes with a “thank-you” from our patients. I can’t tell you how good that makes a nurse feel to hear those two words – it goes a long way!
I would like to share my own story of how I arrived in this role as a gynecologic oncology nurse navigator because I am so grateful to be doing what I am doing today. As nurse navigators we are that critical link to patients, families, physicians and resources. We are able to expedite a treatment trajectory and bolster our physician’s already amazing work. Navigators are part of an amazing team that helps a patient sift through the quagmire of a daunting cancer diagnosis.
I work with two amazing gynecologic oncologists at Sibley Hospital in Washington, DC – Drs. Jeffrey Lin and Mildred Chernofsky. I have been with them a little more than two years now and have learned so much in this short time about gynecologic diseases.
With about 95,000 new cases of gynecologic cancers diagnosed each year in the US, I stand with these two physicians, approximately 1,000 other gynecologic oncologists and many more nurses at the intersection of maternal health, human rights for women, surgical burden of disease, screening and management and long term consequences of cancer and cancer treatment. It’s incredible to be a part of all of this! We have done so much and yet there is still so much we have yet to do!
As I mentioned, I am relatively new to nurse navigation, having come from a critical care background and before that, in healthcare marketing of all things. I say this, because as I come to know more nurse navigators I find it most interesting, the vastly different kinds of experience we bring into our practices.
Nursing was always my calling as I am the daughter of a nurse and always wanted to be one. I was steered away from nursing as a career though when I was 18, as I was told nurses really didn’t have the voice they needed to have (unlike today where we are an integral part of the care team). So, out of college I went into healthcare communications and started working for a Manhattan healthcare PR firm. Fast forward this story 18 years to me at 36, married with two kids and now attending a lunch with a lively bunch of octogenarians, that my life as I knew it changed.
I’d sat next to a woman named Sylvia and it was fate that I told her that I was contemplating a career change. Jokingly I said things like, “I’ll surely be the oldest person in my class. By the time I graduate I’ll be 40!” and “how on earth am I going to pull this off with 3 and 5 year boys?” She then shared her own story about earning her MBA at 50 (which back then was very bold). She finished looking me straight in the eye and said, “You know Antoinette, you can either be a nurse when you turn 40 or not…it’s really up to YOU!” It was like this woman had thrown he gauntlet down to pave the way for my destiny. I decided to go for it and took one science class at a time until I’d gotten all of my requirements completed and applied to Georgetown University two years later. The rest is history!
I started in critical care with a passion for cardiology but 5 years later was getting a little burned out and called up a dear friend who also happens to be a nurse recruiter at Sibley to bounce some ideas off of. After listening to me a while explain what I loved about nursing – the advocacy, the education, getting to spend longer periods of time with patients, she said, “Let me tell you about a new opportunity that’s opened at Sibley called nurse navigation. Our roles as nurse navigators are so critical to the improved outcomes for patients and our experience with other nurses, physicians, “the healthcare system” in total is critical to achieving these outcomes.
Many times, I attend that initial appointment with Dr. Chernofsky – when a patient first gets their gynecologic cancer diagnosis. We nurses must always remember, what patients have going through their heads and pretty much only that is “I have cancer”. It is a pretty rewarding feeling to know that when the physician leaves, I can listen to the patient, help them process the information given, answer some questions, then help start the process of scheduling the multitude of appointments that lie ahead of them.
Sitting down with a patient to show how a mediport is placed and its function or how a CT scan works and why it’s needed over a PET scan helps a patient feel in control over the cancer they have very little control over. Control is something we all desire and it is especially so with a cancer diagnosis. I often tell our patients, we just need to worry about the things that are within our reach of control and turn that which we have no control over to God. And, in the meantime, let’s get organized and meet this thing head on.
I love what I do as a nurse. I thank Sylvia for her inspiration. I thank my patients each day for theirs. If you around a nurse this week, thank them. It means a great deal.