Managing Metastatic Breast Cancer with Support Services
Finding out that you are suffering from metastatic breast cancer (also known as stage IV or advanced cancer) can be overwhelming. You need to process your diagnosis and figure out what comes next.
This is where oncology nurses and social workers come into play. They can assist you with everything from managing treatment side effects to explaining your bills and finding financial support. While their roles differ, there is some overlap, making your treatment journey a little easier.
What Does an Oncology Nurse Navigator Do?
Oncology nurse navigators are trained registered nurses (RNs) with specialized training in cancer care. They can help you:
- Understand metastatic breast cancer and your treatment options better
- Address side effects like nausea and pain
- Learn more about clinical trials and determine your eligibility
They can also refer you to nutritionists, physical therapists, psychologists, and other resources.
What Does a Social Worker Do?
Social workers can:
- Assist with psychological issues
- Explain billing and insurance queries
- Connect you with resources, such as transportation to and from treatment
- Help you understand work-related issues like short-term disability
- Review and renew applications for financial assistance, such as funding for medications
How to Find Financial Support
Social worker Malia Opat and nurse Kayla Terrell are part of an interdisciplinary team at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Their team includes nutritionists, financial navigators, and psychologists.
If someone has financial concerns, doctors can refer them to Opat, who helps them figure out what is available and where they can fill in the gaps.
“I review, among other things, whether (people with metastatic cancer) are eligible for Social Security disability benefits,” says Opat.
Some people may also have access to short-term disability or Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) options through their employer. There are local and national grants that can be applied for, as well as gas cards and medication discounts – all of which can make a significant difference.
Opat also educates people about places like the Hope Lodge, which offers free accommodation when treatment is far from home. Under the guidance of the American Cancer Society, there are over 30 Hope Lodges in the USA.
Where to Find Educational and Emotional Support
One of the challenges with any diagnosis is knowing what questions to ask. Terrell recommends resources like the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).
“There are sample questions that (people) may want to ask when they visit their doctor,” says Terrell.
Terrell assists people in taking care of their emotional health by referring them to Turning Point, the cancer center’s free program for cancer patients and their families. They can learn to deal with the psychological and social impact of cancer in a healthy way.
Coping with a cancer diagnosis can be particularly challenging when trying to manage a household and hold down a job. This is where telehealth plays a role.
“People with young children really find telemedicine visits to be a great help,” says Terrell, as they do not have to leave the house or arrange for childcare during these times.
If you have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, ask your doctor if they can connect you with a nurse or social worker.