The Difference a Nurse Navigator Can Make

Rhonda Roles, RN, Memorial Regional Cancer Center nurse navigator and Kathryn Peterson, Carlinville

Kathryn Peterson first started seeing flashing lights out of the corner of her eye last December. Several weeks later, a neighbor rushed her to the hospital in her hometown of Carlinville after the lights and pain in her head intensified.

The doctor first suspected a migraine. Until a Computed Tomography (CT) scan revealed a large mass in her brain.

“He turned white as a ghost,” Kathryn said. “I was in an ambulance on my way to Memorial in minutes.”

Estranged from her family and with few friends, Kathryn felt alone. But then she met nurse navigator Rhonda Roles, RN.

Rhonda’s role as the Memorial Regional Cancer Center’s nurse navigator is to ensure patients connect to resources they need.

“I go in, sit down and listen,” Roles said. “Then I come back, make myself notes and do some brainstorming. I can meet a patient and they have no needs — they’re OK financially and have a good support system. But then there are patients like Kathryn, where I help coordinate transportation, medical logistics and really just become a friend.”

It was Rhonda who was with Kathryn when she received her diagnosis – lung cancer that had metastasized to the brain. Surgery was not an option, so she immediately started radiation followed by chemotherapy.

“I couldn’t have done it without Rhonda,” Kathryn said. “She was there to catch me, to remind me, to explain things. It was such a blessing.”

Rhonda sees about 15 to 20 patients a month. About four to five of those typically become high-needs patients. Currently, her youngest patient is 19 and the oldest is 87.

“One patient asked how much I charged,” Roles said. “And I told him everything was free and it was just part of his stay at Memorial. And truly, they just don’t realize what I get back from them.”

A registered nurse for the past 34 years, Roles became a navigator after a fast-paced career in emergency medicine.

“At this point in my life, this is where I need to be,” she said. “All my experience has played into this. I’ve learned so much about community benefits and ways I can pull things together for my patients.”

As for her patient, Kathryn, she’s still undergoing chemotherapy. It’s the connection she shares with Rhonda that keeps her going.

“I tend to get so overwhelmed and just shut down,” she said. “Having Rhonda’s support keeps it positive. She really is more like a sister.”