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Inspired to Navigate

In a darkened lab room, all eyes focus on a large computer screen.

Radiologist Thomas Cink compares two images taken during a patient’s mammogram earlier that day. As patient navigator Donna Dwire sits next to the doctor, they review the pictures with a smile. Everything looks good.

The two colleagues met for the first time in 2008 under very different circumstances. Dwire, then a Sanford post-partum and nurse, was sitting in Dr. Cink’s exam room for a diagnostic mammogram. Her mother and grandmother had both died of breast cancer and she was in his office to “double check” a suspicious area.

“Luckily it was a false alarm, but as I was a bucket of tears, he compassionately and thoroughly went through the imaging,” Dwire says, walking through the clinic halls. “He explained what he was seeing and why it was just a normal result of the test.”

Helping her cope

A year later, she met Dr. Cink again -- this time to do a core needle biopsy, checking another suspicious spot for cancer. He performed the procedure and then shared his suspicion about the results.

At first, she felt herself “falling apart at the seams,” as she met her patient navigator who helped talk and walk her through the process from the shock of diagnosis to making decisions about her care. As she talked to Dr. Cink, she felt he would do everything in his power to heal her.

“He shared his time with me and showed me so much empathy, answering my questions,” Dwire said. “At a very bad time, he helped me pick up the pieces and gave me hope. That’s why I’m here today.”

Dwire’s cancer was successfully treated over the next year with a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She was able to get back to the job she had loved for over 25 years, helping to care for mothers who have delivered new babies.

Inspired care

However, when a position for a new breast cancer nurse navigator came open, Dwire decided to apply. The care she had received during her cancer treatment had saved and changed her life. She had been inspired by her caregivers and wanted a chance to help other breast cancer patients.

“You see life through a different set of eyes when you’ve lived through a diagnosis of cancer,” Dwire said. “I wanted to be part of this, making a difference.”

Since December, Dwire has become a lifeline and advocate for new breast cancer patients. She generally meets with them when a diagnosis has been made, coming to important appointments and helping them identify resources from helping with patient education to financial or emotional support.

When patients learn that she is a breast cancer survivor, they tend to ask her questions about her own experiences. She is happy to share, but always lets them know that treatment is different for each individual, she said.

“The job has been everything I expected and more,” Dwire said. “As much as I try to reach out and touch patients, they really touch you.”

A friendly face

Dr. Cink said he appreciates the way that cancer patients respond to Dwire. They can sense immediately her empathy and her experience having been a patient is invaluable, he said.

“Not only is she a smiling face, but she’s been down this path,” said the radiologist. “They get to see someone who has had cancer and she’s living a full, meaningful life.”

Patients who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer are often frightened and overwhelmed at first, Dr. Cink said. Anything that helps answer questions and guide patients to the assistance they need makes the treatment and healing more effective.

“My patients tell me how much they appreciate having someone like Donna with that warm, reassuring presence,” he said. “Her personality and skills are such a good fit.”

Every Monday, the patient navigator and the doctor that treated her cancer meet to review mammograms and discuss patient cases. Dwire said she feels so fortunate to work side-by-side with the doctors in providing top-notch treatment and compassionate care.

“We enter our patients’ lives with hopes to make their journey through a life’s stage easier or more navigable,” Dwire said. “And as you reach out to them, it is your heart that is filled and enriched.”

Posted Date: May 2012