Navigating Cancer

Pei Fang
 

 

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Touring the American Cancer Society's Patient Service Center with Pei-Fang Fang

 

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A cancer diagnosis is life-changing news. Fear and emotion run high, and life seems to stop and speed up all at the same time. But no one has to go through this journey alone thanks to the cancer information navigators at the American Cancer Society’s Patient Service Center.

When you walk through the halls of the Patient Service Center, it’s impossible not to feel the warmth and compassion in the air. Similar to a crisis center, the navigators are calm and empathetic; giving patients information ranging from support groups in their area, arranging rides to treatment, advice on how to talk to family members, and questions to ask their doctors. It’s a quiet, serene space where the 15 navigators on staff speak 10 different languages including Mandarin, Gurujati, Hindi, Portugese, Arabic, French, Russian, German and Spanish, and use a translating service to connect with those callers who speak other languages. They speak with more than 8,000 callers each month and are often the first touch patients have with the American Cancer Society.

Pei-Fang Fang, one of the navigators on staff, feels it’s a true privilege to be able to help so many people. “I get up each morning knowing there are patients out there who have a question, a concern, a fear, and the health care system isn’t giving them the answers they need. But I can help them, and that is what motivates me each and every day,” she said.

“We are floating wood in the ocean. The wood doesn’t save them, but keeps them afloat until they reach dry land. We keep people afloat and give them hope that they will reach that dry land,” she said.

The navigators answer incoming phone calls and make calls to patients who have reached out to our toll-free number looking for information. “How are you doing on your cancer journey today,” is the first question Pei asks them. She explains that on any given day their feelings, emotions, and needs may change. Someone may call on one day and need emotional support, and a week later may need information on financial assistance, or help navigating their health insurance coverage.

“Patient navigators provide information, education and resources, but the most important thing we give is hope. We hold their hands through the phone, give them a hug. We see where they want to go and help them get there,” she said.

Pei came to the United States from her native Taiwan to study counseling. Wanting to help people, she came to the American Cancer Society and never imagined the difference she’d be able to make. The most difficult thing she’s seen is the inequality in health care. “Seeing some people with private insurance given care or information that people on Medicaid are not getting is heartbreaking. It keeps me up at night. But I do what I can to help everyone and help bridge this gap.”

Pei’s training in counseling is invaluable in her role. “At the end of the day I think about how I connected with a patient, and how I can better connect tomorrow. But what really matters at the end of the day is that we’ve helped someone, and made their difficult journey a little more bearable.”

If you have a question or concern and would like to speak with one of our trained patient navigators, call 1.800.227.2345.

Additional Reading:
Navigating Difficult Waters: History of Patient Navigation
Patient Navigation at Putnam Medical Center
Find support and treatment information from the American Cancer Society

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About the American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. As the nation’s largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing more than $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit cancer.org.

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