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ROCKY MOUNT — Mike Beaudin lost his wife 3 ½ years ago after her year-long struggle with lung cancer. He was her 24/7 caregiver.
“I was fortunate to be able to be there for my wife,” he said, “through both the good times and the difficult.”
Today, Beaudin has been appointed as the first cancer lay navigator, a volunteer position, at the Danny Talbott Cancer Center, located on the Nash UNC Health Care campus. He said, “I was there for my wife all the time, but I realize that some people may not have the resources — the family support, good insurance, reliable transportation to and from appointments — and becoming a lay navigator was my best opportunity to help.”
Earlier this year, a group of dedicated Nash UNC volunteers — laypeople from the community, not medical professionals — began training so they might serve as lay navigators in the cancer center. Others who completed the class and soon to be working with patients include Agnes Moore, Mary Salecky and Joyce Williams.
Unlike clinical navigators, who are involved in the medical treatment of patients, the role of these lay navigators is to spend time with patients, get to know them, make them comfortable and provide guidance and resources.
“Helping patients get past their fears and feel more comfortable is my goal,” said Beaudin, a retired banker. “Before I sit down to talk with a patient, I’ll always ask them if they’d like to talk, and if it seems right, I’ll even ask them if they’d like to hear a joke... But I take my role very seriously. Cancer is scary; a friendly face and a helping hand are always appreciated, and I enjoy getting my patients to smile, laugh, and just feel better.”
Sterling Grimes, executive director of UNC Cancer Care at Nash says she is very thankful for this program.
“Lay navigators have many responsibilities, from providing soft drinks, snacks, blankets and pillows during an infusion treatment to offering guidance and sharing helpful resources with patients.”
Grimes added, “They also provide a listening ear and emotional support, which is both comforting to patients and often very insightful in recognizing where a patient might have barriers to successful treatments, such as a lack of reliable transportation, financial problems, living alone and other personal or medical problems. They advocate for patients and help them make better connections with the Nash UNC staff too.”
Initial training for the Nash UNC cancer lay navigation program consists of studying texts, viewing videos, and shadowing Nash UNC social worker Delphine Wiggins to observe how she interacts with patients. Lay navigators also shadow registered nurses Pat Silver and Krystin Fmura, as well as other clinical staff in the center. Training is a continual process for lay navigators.
In addition to being Nash UNC’s first lay navigator, Beaudin was invited to the 2018 National Navigation Roundtable, sponsored by the American Cancer Society. This collaboration of experts from academia, public health, advocacy and survivor groups, professional societies, industry, training and state and federal agencies seeks to enhance health equity, improve health outcomes and broaden access to quality care through a focus on patient navigation. Its goal is to advance navigation efforts that eliminate barriers to cancer care and reduce disparities in health outcomes.
“At the meeting, I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Harold Freeman, honorary chair of NNRT, who is considered to be the “Father of Navigation,” Beaudin added.
Beaudin concluded that the NNRT presentations and roundtable discussions left him with a deep impression of the importance of navigation, and particularly the benefits offered by lay navigators to the rural, poor and elderly populations.
“Poor nutrition, physical inactivity and tobacco use are the largest contributing factors to the majority of deaths in the counties we serve at Nash UNC, and many people are uninsured or underinsured,” he said. “Dr. Freeman’s words are still ringing in my ears, ‘People shouldn’t die because they are poor.’”
For more information about UNC Cancer Care at Nash and the cancer lay navigation program, visit unccancercareatnash.org or call 252-962-8947. Anyone interested in becoming a lay navigator may contact Leslie Spencer, manager of volunteer and hospitality services at Nash UNC, at 252-962-8118.