Education - the Powerful Key to Taking on a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

By Shari Bates, BSN, RN, OCN, CCM, VMS BioMarketing Clinical Nurse Educator

The healthcare journey can be one full of uncertainty and vulnerability for a patient. As an oncology nurse specializing in breast cancer, I have witnessed these struggles patients endure throughout diagnosis and treatment. I have found the initial diagnosis to be the hardest part of a breast cancer patient's journey. It is shocking and overwhelming. Once the original shock wears off, patients have many, many questions and few answers. This is where my fellow Clinical Educators and I step in to provide education and expedited treatment planning, which are key to a breast cancer patient's progress.

With a breast cancer diagnosis, anxiety and distress are a few toxic obstacles that occur. When I see these symptoms, it is my job to work with the patient to get back to living the most normal life possible. To do this, education is a powerful key! When patients understand their diagnosis, know what to expect, and identify their key support systems (healthcare providers and caregivers), anxiety is exponentially reduced. Reduce stress, live a better life! That is true for everyone, especially those going through the challenge of a breast cancer diagnosis.

Relieving stress starts with communication techniques. Open communication results because of the honest relationship with the educator, which includes qualities of empathy, integrity, and patient advocacy. When patients feel heard and understood, they are more likely to express fears and ask questions of their healthcare provider. Communication and education methods should be tailored to every individual. Each patient is unique, and breast cancer does not discriminate against age, ethnicity, economic status, or even gender (men get breast cancer, too). Education is personalized to meet the needs of patients whoever and wherever they are in life when breast cancer strikes.

During this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I have reflected on the amazing changes I've witnessed in the breast cancer patient journey over the years I have been a Clinical Nurse Educator. Patients are now diagnosed earlier; genetic testing is available and easy attainable. We now examine the biology of cancer cells, and treatments are tailored to the individual with targeted therapies attacking specific cellular changes. One size does not fit all and treatments, like communication techniques, are patient specific. It is an exciting time in oncology and breast cancer research! Newer and better treatments are emerging at an exponential rate. The breast cancer journey is complex, and this is where Clinical Educators play a critical role.

For all those currently enduring a breast cancer diagnosis, advocate for yourself! If you have questions, ask your nurse, doctor, or caregiver. When something doesn't feel right, let your treatment team know. If you need help from family or friends, tell them – they want to help you! You have a network of caregivers, friends, and educators here for you – use them. You will get through this. You are not alone.

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Shari Bates has been a registered nurse for 12 years and joined the VMS BioMarketing team in September 2017. She earned a BSN degree at the University of Texas, Arlington. Throughout the years, Shari obtained additional certifications, such as Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN). She now lives and provides education programs in the community of Seattle, WA.