Hunterdon Regional Cancer Center: Committed to Providing Patients With High-Quality Care

TON - August 2023 Vol 16, No 4
Baylor Scott & White Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center, Dallas, TX.Hunterdon Regional Cancer Center, Flemington, NJ.

Hunterdon Regional Cancer Center, Flemington, NJ, is a community-based cancer center offering an integrative approach to care, with access to prevention initiatives and screening as well as comprehensive diagnosis and treatment. Multidisciplinary services offered to patients include surgical, medical, and radiation oncology; diagnostic imaging services; disease-specific nurse navigation; psychosocial support; an oncology-certified dietitian; and a cancer risk assessment program. Hunterdon Regional Cancer Center is part of a National Community Oncology Research program, as designated by the National Cancer Institute, bringing research and clinical trial access to the community. The center has also recently added oncology rehabilitation services on site to provide support to patients before, during, and after treatment.

Hunterdon Regional Cancer Center is accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer and the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC).

The Oncology Nurse-APN/PA (TON) recently interviewed Jessica Danik, BSN, RN, CBCN, Oncology Nurse Navigator, Hunterdon Regional Cancer Center, who discussed what inspired her to choose a career in nursing, her roles and responsibilities at the center, the most rewarding and challenging aspects of her job, how she feels about being the recipient of the 2023 Empower Award, and how she achieves a healthy life/work balance.

TON: What inspired you to pursue a career in nursing?

Ms Danik: I knew in high school that I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. I enjoyed science and helping others, so it seemed like a natural fit! However, it was not until I started college as a biology major and met another student in the nursing program that I had an “aha!” moment. I loved that what I learned in the classroom had real-life applications. Even as a first-year nursing student, we were “hands on” in the nursing lab and attended clinical at local hospitals. I quickly realized that I had the ability to truly make a difference in someone’s life, and knew this was what I was meant to do.

TON: What led to your decision to work specifically with patients who have breast cancer?

Ms Danik: While I was in college, I lost my grandmother to lymphoma. Attending appointments with her, and meeting the wonderful staff who cared for her, oncology nursing held a special place in my heart. That summer, I completed a nursing externship program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, which sealed the deal. I worked on an inpatient oncology unit before joining Hunterdon Regional Cancer Center in 2013 as a nurse care coordinator, which eventually evolved into an oncology nurse navigator role. Initially, I navigated all diagnoses, but quickly found my niche with the breast program.

Our breast program is accredited by the NAPBC, which means we maintain certain standards to ensure we are providing the highest quality of care. A patient with breast cancer who is diagnosed at our facility does not need to drive an hour or longer to a nearby city to receive this level of care. We can provide everything they will need from start to finish close to home. I enjoy being able to assist people in my community. They can come for their treatment and still maintain a career they love or get their kids off the school bus in the afternoon.

TON: Can you walk us through a typical day as a nurse navigator?

Ms Danik: No 2 days are ever the same. I always begin by organizing and prioritizing my task list, but this evolves throughout the day as patients, caregivers, physicians, and other staff members reach out to me. I work with several different departments: breast surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, radiology, pathology, and plastic surgery, to name just a few. I am responsible for coordinating our patients’ care between these disciplines.

I meet with patients on the day they are diagnosed with breast cancer and assess their needs and initiate the next steps in their workup. If an individual requires chemotherapy, I ensure that all necessary studies and patient education are in place to get started on time. I track many quality initiatives for our program and moderate our multidisciplinary breast care conferences and breast program leadership committee. On any given day, I am doing some (or all) of these things.

TON: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Ms Danik: The most rewarding aspect of my job is being able to help someone during what may be one of the worst moments of their life and knowing that I have the tools to help make that moment (hopefully) a little easier.

TON: What do you consider to be one of the most difficult aspects of your job?

Ms Danik: The most difficult aspect of my job is balancing patient care needs with administrative work for the breast program. Patient care comes first, but it is also important to monitor the quality of the work we do, ensure we are delivering evidence-based care, and aim for ways to improve.

TON: As a healthcare professional working closely with patients with breast cancer, what insights can you share with our readers that they might not otherwise be aware of?

Ms Danik: Being a part of a patient’s journey from the moment they are told they have breast cancer has provided a variety of experiences. One thing I have learned is there is not one “right way” to feel or be. There is not one “right way” to navigate someone through this experience. I try to let my patients lead and meet them where they are at. It is very important to validate their feelings. Being given a cancer diagnosis removes a lot of their control. Any way that I can empower patients with education so they can make an informed decision about their care gives them a little of that control back.

I would also like to recognize the strength and resilience of my patients with breast cancer, and all patients with cancer, who required treatment during a worldwide pandemic. Cancer never stopped during COVID-19, but many resources changed or became unavailable. Nurse navigators were redeployed to assist in other areas of their organizations, support programs were suspended or became virtual, surgeries were temporarily delayed, and protocols were constantly changing. Our oncology patients are already a vulnerable population and they have endured even more over the past few years.

TON: You were recently awarded the 2023 Empower Award. Tell us about that experience.

Ms Danik: It was such an honor to receive the 2023 Empower Award by Beekley Medical. I am so proud to represent nurse navigation this year! I am still overwhelmed with gratitude for my colleagues who nominated me for the award. A navigator is only as good as the team around them, and I have the best team! The day I received the award was incredibly special, because I was able to share it with several members of my team, along with my parents, husband, and children.

TON: What strategies do you find helpful for avoiding burnout and achieving a healthy life/work balance?

Ms Danik: I think this is something that many of us in this profession struggle with. On a day-to-day basis, I try to move my body. I enjoy exercising, especially if I can go for a run outside, but some days it is simply going for a walk with my coworker on our lunch hour.

Long term, I am trying to become better at spacing my time off throughout the year. If I am feeling easily overwhelmed or frustrated, I try to pause and determine the root cause of these feelings. Spending time with my family, especially outdoors, refreshes me. Reading (I recently joined a book club) and gardening also bring me joy.

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