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New Ulm Medical Center

Cancer support, from diagnosis to survivorship

Cancer Care Coordinator Susan Gersch, RN (left), chats with Patty Rosenhammer, a patient with Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® – New Ulm.

Cancer Care Coordinator Susan Gersch, RN (left), chats with Patty Rosenhammer, a patient with Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® – New Ulm, during a recent chemo treatment. A Cancer Care Coordinator provides one-on-one support for patients from the point of diagnosis until they become cancer survivors.

For more information about the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® – New Ulm, call 507-217-5562.

The road from cancer patient to cancer survivor is long and fraught with challenges. But at New Ulm Medical Center, patients have a companion to support them throughout their journey.

Susan Gersch, RN, is the Cancer Care Coordinator at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® – New Ulm. She started in the role in October of 2012 because of an Allina Health system-wide initiative that promised a Cancer Care Coordinator (formerly called a nurse navigator) for every cancer patient in the Allina Health system by the end of 2013. Cancer Care Coordinators provide one-on-one support for patients from the point of diagnosis until they become cancer survivors.

"I help patients navigate through all of the complex processes that they deal with when they're diagnosed with cancer," said Gersch. Once a patient is diagnosed, she is notified by their primary care provider, surgeon or other healthcare provider. Then she makes a phone call to the patient to help them with their next steps – often scheduling their next appointments and helping them get in to see doctors quickly. If the appointments are in New Ulm, Gersch will go with them. "I'll write down info that the doctor talks about in the appointment, and afterward if they have questions or concerns they can call me and I can help them," she said.

Support when and how patients need it

Gersch offers support in any number of ways – and her hours are hardly 9 to 5. "I'm a 24-hour-a-day service," she said. "I tell patients I work for them." Even if patients opt to receive their cancer treatment outside of the Allina Health network, Gersch is still there to talk whenever patients need her support.

Part of Gersch's role is to work closely with the other healthcare professionals that treat New Ulm Medical Center cancer patients, including registered dietitians, home care nurses, infusion nurses, social workers, psychologists and more. She can make referrals for patients who need such resources, and can also connect patients with social workers who can help with financial concerns.

She also makes sure that patients know about New Ulm Medical Center support group. It's offered the second Tuesday of each month and it's led by one of their psychologists. "I encourage them all to attend," she said, as it can be a big help for patients struggling with their cancer diagnoses. Gersch may also refer patients to a mental health professional if she thinks they might benefit from that type of support as well, and looks out for warning signs of depression in her patients.

Moving forward to survivorship

From day one, Gersch starts guiding patients toward life after cancer. "I start working toward survivorship soon after they’re diagnosed – our goal is for them to be survivors," she said. Gersch can help coordinate follow-up visits with the cancer team once treatments are completed to help make sure patients continue to recover well. She'll arm them with educational brochures and talk to them about resources (such as physical and occupational therapy) that can help them recover from treatments and get back to their healthy, active, cancer-free lives.

The cancer care team at New Ulm Medical Center works closely together. It's very much a team approach, Gersch says. But she has a very special role to play in the care of cancer patients at New Ulm Medical Center – friend. She's been a registered nurse for more than 30 years, so she has plenty of experience to draw on – and she's happy to answer questions, offer advice or simply listen when patients need to talk. And she feels grateful for the role she plays in her patients' journeys.

"I'm just there to support them and answer their questions. I think that means a lot to the patients – to have someone to listen to them and treat them as individuals and make sure that they're having their needs met on this journey," said Gersch. "All of us nurses have a different role – mine is supportive. I'm lucky. I can sit with them when they're afraid; I can sit with them when they want me to be there." And that's just where her patients need her most.


Source: New Ulm Medical Center - Health Edition
Reviewed by: Susan Gersch, RN, Cancer Care Coordinator.
First Published: 05/01/2013
Last Reviewed: 05/01/2013