In August 2011, Melanie Hartman was told she had neuroendocrine carcinoma, a rare form of cancer with no known cure. Just 40 years old at the time, Hartman said her world stopped upon hearing the diagnosis.
"When you are told you have cancer, you don't even know what questions to ask," she said. "But the longer you live with the diagnosis, the more information you want."
Since her diagnosis, Hartman has learned as much as she can about her cancer and treatment options. Fortunately, she is not doing it alone.
Her cancer nurse coordinator serves as a constant source of information, support and strength.
"I tell patients their cancer diagnosis is like being thrown on a roller coaster without a seat belt. I am their seat belt. I am there to keep them in the car, on the track and moving forward," said Jill May, RN, Hartman's nurse coordinator.
In addition to providing shoulders to lean on, cancer nurse coordinators help inform patients about their options, schedule appointments, provide access to resources within the community and coordinate patients' care.
"I'm very fortunate in terms of all the care I have received through this process," Hartman said. "When you go through this, it's nice to know that someone has your back. Jill will call me out of the blue just to check in and see how I am doing."
The first time the two met, May was wearing the zebra-patterned awareness ribbon that represents Hartman's rare form of cancer. Hartman took that as a sign that she was on the right track.
"When I saw her, I knew I was in the right place," Hartman said. "I have never felt like a number. In my world, I'm not a number. I am a mother, a wife and a businessperson. It's nice to be validated."
May said helping people like Hartman navigate their treatment is what she was meant to do. "It can be overwhelming, but every day is a day of survivorship. I want my patients to understand that I am here for them."
Melanie Hartman with her cancer nurse coordinator, Jill May, RN.