“Be patient with yourself. You are growing stronger every day. The weight of the world will become lighter…and you will begin to shine brighter. Don’t give up.” —Robert Tew
Even though I am still a relatively new navigator, I wish I had read that quote at the start of my career—though I can’t say that I would have heeded the advice or particularly understood it in the moment. When I started in radiation oncology in April 2020, I had never even heard of an oncology patient navigator, let alone thought that I would find myself with that title a few months later. I was a new navigator and the first in our organization; it was exciting and terrifying! It wasn’t until after my first AONN+ meeting that I realized there are a lot of us that have similar “coming of age” stories within oncology navigation. We are a group of people who are self-taught, who have had to climb steep learning curves to identify and address our patients’ needs while having to learn lessons the hard way repeatedly.
My first task as an oncology patient navigator was to help our patients with advanced prostate cancer who had high out-of-pocket costs for their oncolytic medications find copay assistance. So, I dove headfirst into learning about different financial assistance options and insurance. That quickly morphed into mastering prior authorizations and the vocabulary needed for approvals. It was like Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole except in finance! It was overwhelming and very easy in those moments to find myself thinking “this is too much, I’ll pick this up!” and feeling like I was failing my patients, failing my coworkers, and failing myself. I was stuck in the trees and failing to see the forest around me.
Thankfully, I soon discovered the AONN+ podcast and immediately felt relief that there was a community of navigators, other folks doing a similar role as myself in oncology. Then I attended the Spring 2021 AONN+ Conference, and that experience changed the way I approached patient navigation. I learned about resources I had not even considered, chatted with navigators from all over the world, and found my people! I learned that there are many ways to be an oncology patient navigator, the possibilities are practically limitless, and I came back to the clinic excited and refreshed.
I started to engage in more patient education. I spoke with my patients and their caregivers about prostate cancer, the difference between somatic and hereditary genetic testing and its implications in prostate cancer treatment. I sat with patients when they met with clinicians to help facilitate the conversation so everyone felt heard and all questions were answered.
I started studying for my OPN-CG certification, and I again found myself being impatient that I was not where I thought I needed to be—even after passing my exam in December 2021. I got lost in my shortcomings and found myself fighting the guilt and hopelessness that come with being a new navigator and it really started to wear on me.
Much to my surprise, I was nominated to write a blog post on “Growth”—this blog post. It forced me to turn around and look at my short-lived career and recognize how far I’ve come—how much I have grown. I look back at the navigator I was only a year ago and I just want to give her a hug. She didn’t know all the answers, but she wasn’t afraid to try, and I am so proud of her for that. The barriers to care that I am able to work on today would have been mountains to me last year. I am reminded of everything that I’ve worked hard to achieve—the resources that are now available to our patients, the respect I’ve earned from the providers in our group and community, the knowledge I can share with patients, providers and staff, just to name a few. I’m reminded of the friendships and mentors I’ve met at AONN+ meetings, the committees and specialty groups that I am a part of, and the leadership roles that I’ve taken on within my community and organization. Our program has grown. Our team has grown. I have grown.
I hope you take the opportunity to turn around and recognize the steps you’ve taken and the growth that YOU have accomplished. Remember to be patient with yourself as you continue to grow and shine brighter every day.
With that, I will close on this quote by Maya Angelou—“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
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