Cathy Lou Holt had liver cancer. She needed surgery, then help finding a place to stay in Portland during her subsequent three weeks of radiation at Oregon Health & Science University. And she needed help figuring out how she was going to pay her bills while she was off work and going through cancer treatment.
Sherry Willmschen, the new American Cancer Society (ACS) Patient Navigator at the OHSU Cancer Institute, stepped in to help.
OHSU is the only health center in Portland met that offers its oncology patients the services of a patient navigator. The navigator program is a collaboration between the ACS and the OHSU Cancer Institute, with the ACS partially funding the cost of the program.
Willmschen provides access to cancer society services such as
transportation, lodging and other local and national resources. She
also helps educate patients about the many OHSU Cancer Institute
clinical trials, and works closely with OHSU social workers to help
coordinate continuity of care.
"As soon as I let Sherry know
what I needed, I would get a call back giving me the help," said Holt,
55, of Bend. She was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma in August,
Willmschen arranged free hotel stays for Holt
because there was no way she could drive the three hours back and forth
to Bend every weekday during her radiation. Willmschen also arranged
for a gas card to help pay the cost of traveling to and from Portland,
and she referred Holt to several agencies in case she needed help
paying her mortgage and other bills. Before cancer, Holt worked as a
senior teller at Bank of America. She hopes to return to work this
"Sherry just put me at ease right away. I believed
in her. You can tell she is sincere, and I just didn’t worry," said
Holt, who is now home recovering from surgery and radiation.
OHSU has an excellent social work team and health care professionals
for its patients, a patient navigator can help patients take care of
the many day-to-day details of their journey through cancer," explained
Rick Landes, associate director of administration and finance in the
OHSU Cancer Institute, and co-creator of the program.
diagnosis of cancer can be an overwhelming experience to many patients.
Navigators help them understand our complex health care system and
connect them with information and services to make follow-up
easier.They even assist with culturally and linguistically appropriate
materials," Landes said. "American Cancer Society patient navigators
like Willmschen offer a listening ear and serve as a source of support
for individuals who have received a cancer diagnosis, are undergoing
treatment or are in recovery," said Dave Rogers, American Cancer
Society regional vice president and co-creator of the program. "They
may also be able to provide access to a variety of support groups and
educational programs to lessen an individual’s cancer burden. The
American Cancer Society is dedicated to improving the quality of life
of cancer patients, survivors and caregivers."
has extensive experience in coordinating social services. Previously
she worked for aging and disabilities programs and in hospice care. She
also has experienced cancer, although she doesn’t usually tell patients
about her own two bouts with breast cancer. Or that her mother died
Willmschen explains, "I think having had breast
cancer helps me do my job with compassion and empathy. Sometimes my job
is hard. It makes my heart hurt. But there are things I can do to help
cancer patients. I can get them the information they need. I can make
sure certain needs are met. I can refer them to the services they need."
For more information on American Cancer Society Patient Services, please call 800 227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.
OHSU Cancer Institute is the only National Cancer Institute-designated
center between Sacramento and Seattle. It comprises some 120 clinical
researchers, basic scientists and population scientists who work
together to translate scientific discoveries into longer and better
lives for Oregon’s cancer patients. In the lab, basic scientists
examine cancer cells and normal cells to uncover molecular
abnormalities that cause the disease. This basic science informs more
than 200 clinical trials at the OHSU Cancer Institute.