Cancer Navigators

  • Guide the Way

GUIDE THE WAY

Mary Greeley Expands Navigator Support for Cancer Patients.

BY STEVE SULLIVAN

Lyle Herrold wants you to be sure to see the pond in the backyard of the Cambridge home where the Herrold family has lived for 40 years.

He’s proud of that pond, and rightfully so. He dug it himself, using only a shovel. It’s 30-feet long, 18-feet wide and 3-feet deep. The pond, you soon realize, is more than an attractive landscape feature. It is a bittersweet reminder of a stronger, healthier time for the Herrolds. A time before cancer.

Three years ago, Herrold was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer. The disease has sapped his strength, but Herrold, who spent the bulk of his professional life in the Air National Guard, has found comfort in his faith, his devoted family, and the doctors and nurses at the William R. Bliss Cancer Center, a service of Mary Greeley and McFarland Clinic.

“I know this is terminal. I know I’m going to die,” said Herrold, while sitting on the couch in his cozy home with his wife Gloria beside him. “I feel pretty good for someone who has cancer. My family has been such a big help, and I know God is guiding us through this.”

Cancer Navigator Teresa Heitland

Cancer Navigator Teresa Heitland

Help is now coming from another source, as well. The Herrolds are among the first people benefiting from Mary Greeley’s Cancer Resource Center’s expanded Cancer Navigator Program, which is supported by gifts to the Mary Greeley Foundation.

For years, the program has helped breast cancer patients and their families manage the complexities of a cancer journey. With the recent addition of a second navigator, the Center is providing support for more cancer patients. Teresa Heitland, BSN, RN, who joins navigator Angela Long, BSN, RN, works primarily with prostate cancer patients, but sees patients with other types of cancer as well.

“The Breast Cancer Navigation Program has been such a success, and our patients have appreciated the service. It was time to expand the opportunity because the need is so great,” said Heitland. “A patient may look like they are handling treatment well clinically with acceptable lab results, vital signs or scans, but they may still have stressors that affect their treatment. Financial, transportation, nutrition and relationship issues can be huge roadblocks on the treatment journey. We can connect patients with resources and try to smooth some of the bumps in the road.”

Heitland adds that “it is not unusual for patients to find it difficult or not want to ask anyone for help. It is important for us to have the ability to anticipate and discuss needs so that patients feel comfortable getting assistance when they need it. The nurses in Oncology and Radiation Oncology are great at recognizing the needs of patients and sending them our way.”

Meet the Herrolds

Meet the Herrolds

Hear Lyle and Gloria tell the moving story of their cancer journey and discuss the support they are receiving from Mary Greeley’s expanded Cancer Navigator Program.

Difficult News

Cancer runs in Herrold’s family. His father died of pancreatic cancer. An older sister died of lung cancer. His youngest brother was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, and another brother has battled skin cancer. Still, Herrold had always been good about getting regular checkups, and was surprised at the news he got during a visit to his primary care doctor.

“He tells me he wants me to get my prostate checked. It seemed smaller than it should be. I really didn’t think much of it as I’d been healthy up until then,” he said.

A biopsy indicated that Herrold did indeed have prostate cancer. Worse, the cancer was aggressive and had metastasized to his bones. The Herrolds have fought Lyle’s cancer together. Gloria has watched her husband’s strength and energy gradually fade.

“As time goes on, it’s harder for him to get around,” Gloria said. “I can see it’s harder and I feel so bad for him.”

They have twice participated in the Cancer Resource Center’s Couples Retreat, an annual weekend event for couples living with metastatic cancers. The retreat provides couples with an opportunity to share experiences in a relaxing setting. The retreat serves as a reminder of how much cancer patients rely on their loved ones, and how the disease impacts everyone. For a couple, it truly is a test of those ‘for better or worse” vows.

"I don't know what I'd do without her,” said Lyle of Gloria. “We’ve been married 53 years and I love her dearly."

Support

Just as patients need the support of the navigator, so do caregivers. Gloria is coming to the realization that she needs some help.

“Teresa is going to be wonderful, I think,” she says. “I’ve always been a hard worker, but she’s helping me line up a cleaning service, and find someone to help me with my gardening.”

Cancer treatment, particularly breast and prostate cancer, is complex and potentially confusing for patients and families. It takes so much time. It involves so many doctors, so many tests.

“This requires us as a cancer center to provide someone who is knowledge-able and competent to help patients tie all these things together, to walk with them through their journey, to be part of the continuity of care,” said Dr. Joseph Merchant, Herrold’s oncologist. “That is where the cancer navigator has proven so valuable. Lyle and Gloria are just starting to take advantage of the program, but there are so many men who are just beginning their journey and need the support of our cancer navigator.”