Program Navigates Cancer Patients Through Every Step
Nick Lawton
NewsWest 9

ODESSA - Just like in a car, Medical Center Hospital's cancer navigators help point the way down the road for their patients.

"When you're told you have cancer, it's a feeling of isolation," Nurse Navigator, Lorita Kelley, said. "Sometimes there might be some barriers such as financial education, transportation, that they might need some extra support, so that's what I do."

Navigation is free and only needs a doctor's referral.

It starts at diagnosis and helps with whatever patients need, from the right diet to dissecting the medical terminology of their condition.

"I usually provide navigation for about a year just to make sure that they are able to follow up with their physicians and to attend their cancer treatments," Kelley said.

MCH started the program for breast cancer and has so far navigated more than 100 patients.

Now they're opening it up to lung cancer patients after 86 lung cancer deaths were recorded in Ector County back in 2009.

West Texas also has one of the highest populations per capita of smoking and tobacco usage in the state.

For patients being navigated, that first diagnosis is one of the hardest moments of their lives.

They said without that extra help, they wouldn't be able to make it through.

"When I was officially given the word that I had cancer, it kind of takes the breath out of you for a few minutes," breast cancer patient, Deborah Jones, said.

Navigation has given Jones hope and comfort.

"Just the feel that she's there and you know she's there, it just relieves a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety," Jones said.

Kelley is a breast cancer survivor too and she uses that experience to bring strength to the patients she navigates.

"I'm a cancer survivor. I do know the feeling and I want to be there for them," she said.

"Don't retreat," Jones said. "It's a long journey and you get tired and when you get connected with someone like Lorita, it just smooths that path for you."