DENVER (KDVR) — June 5 is Cancer Survivors Day. There are nearly 17 million people in the United States who have survived cancer, with more than 225,000 in Colorado alone. Health officials say those numbers continue to rise thanks to advances in early detection and treatment.
Every patient diagnosed with cancer in the Heath One Sarah Cannon system is assigned an oncology nurse navigator who acts as their conduit through the journey from diagnosis to treatment to survivorship. They coordinate appointments and transportation, explain everything in simple terms, help secure grants, and become best friends with some patients.
Sarah DeHart had just turned 40 when she was diagnosed with cancer.
“She put her hand on my leg, looked me straight in the eye, and just said, ‘Sarah, I’m pretty sure we’re looking at breast cancer,'” DeHart said. “I just said ‘what’ kind of tremor and she said that was the most common and then I collapsed.”
A cancer diagnosis can be devastating, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence.
“The hardest thing is just not knowing how bad it is going to be. I didn’t know if I was going to have to do chemo? Should I do radiation? Well, I had to do everything, so it’s very scary,” Dehart said. “You instantly feel, you just want to ask everyone questions, you’re going to die.”
The then-mother-of-three already had her hands full and said Sarah Cannons’ nurse navigator program takes a bit of the weight off your shoulders.
“(It was) my whole cancer journey and so I still had to support a family of five and it was scary. So Marina was my hero. So my pivot nurse was huge for me because she filled in the gaps where maybe there was no counselor available or the doctors were really busy or whatever,” Dehart said.
Natalie Ebenhoch, Sarah Cannon’s breast cancer nurse navigator at the Medical Center of Aurora, said she is passionate about helping patients.
“I have a patient at the moment, she just had a bad result from her operation. So she calls me every day because she tells me, I just need to hear your voice and I’m fine That’s what I’m here for,” Ebenhoch said.
Health One said nurse navigators are often a patient’s direct link to survival, even if they don’t actually treat the disease.
“It means a lot because these are the most heroic and courageous people I’ve ever met going through this,” Ebenhoch said.
However, Ebenhoch said she preferred the patient to be in the spotlight.
“You’ve done all this hard work, and we celebrate you,” Ebenhoch said.
On Cancer Survivors Day, Dehart is happy to be cancer-free, but said it was bittersweet.
“You are so happy at the same time, you have so much compassion and empathy. you are so happy at the same time, you have so much compassion and empathy for those who are not so lucky,” said Ebenhoch.
Why cancer survival is possible
- In the United States, there are screening programs for four types of cancer: breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, and cervical cancer. But 70% of all cancer deaths in this country are linked to cancers that cannot be screened. Blood tests now offer hope of detecting multiple cancers at once and catching them early.
- There is more information about the genetic mutations that cause specific types of cancer, which can support treatment decisions, and could one day help doctors track disease status using blood tests.
- Targeted therapies and immunotherapies also contribute to the fight against cancer.
- All of this helps create a stronger community of cancer survivors.
- The most important measure is prevention. Reduce your risk by quitting smoking, limiting your alcohol intake, eating a healthy diet, protecting yourself from the sun, getting vaccinated and getting regular screenings.
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