Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be a frightening and life-changing moment for a woman and her family. A million things will run through her mind from how she'll pay for treatment to whether her hair will fall out.
But at the Women's Breast Center at Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach patient navigator Mary Jean Houlahan is helping patients travel smoothly through treatment, answering questions and holding their hands along the way.
Houlahan is the manager of the Oncology Patient Navigator Program and her work begins once a patient has been diagnosed.
"I start by taking a quick assess of the patient," she said. "I have a conversation with them. From this conversation I can get to know my patient. I can learn about what support they have at home and what their greatest concerns are. I always come to their level to be what they need [as a navigator]."
She understands that each patient's needs and concerns are different and tailors her care to them. She describes herself as a nurturer, who likes the social aspect of her job.
"I want to know what is really bothering the patient about their diagnosis," she said. "I want to know if they understand what they have been told and what is their biggest concern. This helps me to better communicate with the oncologist and surgeons."
Often Houlahan will attend the meetings with surgeons and oncologists along with the patients with the goal for them to understand their treatment.
"When you're [a patient] in the office with the surgeon or oncologist you are listening to everything they are saying, but there are also a million things running through your head," she said. "I help to explain the different procedures and treatments so that the patient can pick the best one for themselves."
Houlahan said that she wants treatment to be as seamless as possible - something that is made possible at the Women's Breast Center because of its team of surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, nurses and technicians who work closely with each other. Each patient's case goes through the Tumor Board, in which all doctors and personnel involved can talk about the treatment and the patient's needs.
"Everyone has a say in their treatment," she said. "I am just one member of a great team. I would not be this successful without this great team."
The Women's Breast Center at Good Samaritan offers digital mammography and bone density testing along with advance diagnostics like ultrasound, surgical biopsy, nonsurgical aspiration, stereotactic biopsy and core biopsy.
"But beyond that we offer smiling and friendly faces that are here to help from the moment you walk in," Houlahan said.