Michelle Watson serves as Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s patient navigator. Watson, a breast cancer survivor, works directly with breast cancer patients and helps them navigate the often overwhelming and complex cancer care system. An integral member of SCCA’s clinical patient navigation team, Michelle talks to us about the importance of working hand in hand with patients.
Q: What is a clinical patient navigator?
Clinical patient navigators work with patients, families, and caregivers to help with the practical, tangible aspects of life related to their cancer treatment. Practical needs, such as lack of transportation to medical appointments or financial worries, can pose very real barriers to fully participating in treatment.
Q: What are the most common practical needs you address?
Medical transportation and housing while undergoing treatment are frequent requests. My colleague, Carmen Cunningham, and I also help people with financial and insurance issues, medication co-pays, and many other concerns, and to navigate the cancer care system, which can be overwhelming. I often refer people to SCCA’s social work team if they need emotional support in dealing with issues triggered by the cancer diagnosis itself or any underlying mental issues.
Q: You survived breast cancer. Does being a cancer survivor and working in oncology ever feel like too much?
As a human being, yes, sometimes it does. Little things can trigger me occasionally. Yet something in my soul is fed by this work. It seems that every time I feel discouraged, I connect with a patient in a way that lets me know I still need to be here. What better way to heal than to be there for others?
Q: What do you find most difficult about your role?
Not always being able to help is very difficult. Community resources are limited in how much assistance they can provide; it is sometimes challenging to help set realistic expectations.
Q; What do you like most about your job?
It brings me joy when patients share something about themselves. They oftentimes want to show me who they are beyond their diagnosis. Recently a patient, also a gospel singer, shared a CD of his music with me. This is just one example of the many blessings I receive in this work.