There is very little in life quite as scary as a cancer diagnosis. Instantly, the "what ifs" "what now" and "what next" swirl through your mind and it can be easy to get lost inside that fear.
There is a new program in the Southwest Louisiana navigating through those questions.
Carol Pettyjohn carries her contagiously positive spirit wherever she goes, but a breast cancer diagnosis just before Christmas had her mind and emotions reeling like never before. "I don't think anything is quite as terrorizing as to hear that about you," she said.
Surgeons needed to work quickly to remove the lump in Pettyjohn's breast. "You're afraid, you're anxious and I'm tough," she said, "but I was anxious."
Those feelings, very uncharacteristic to Pettyjohn, were eased thanks to the West Calcasieu-Cameron Hospital Breast Health Navigators, like Rhonda Ryker. "It's scary for them and we want to be calming for them, to give them information, to ease their mind," said Ryker.
Something as simple as walking in the doors of a hospital after a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. That is where this program steps in, guiding you along the way. "One lady told me, she said, 'I'm just here trying to navigate and I don't know what to do.' I gave her all these resources and she walks out saying, 'God bless you,'" said Ryker.
Dr. Maureen Lannan says it is the personal touch that can be medicine for the soul. "You already feel a little bit dehumanized because something that is so intimately a part of you is violated and so to have those individuals walk you through this and say you're not alone is extremely vital," she said.
Pettyjohn says the navigators gave her a friend to talk to, a hand to hold and resources at her fingertips to lighten the load. "I've got family and they've been marvelous," she said, "but to know I had that connection, I had a new friend who really helped guide me through waters that are scary."
The breast health navigators reach out to the patients whenever they are diagnosed with breast cancer. This program has been around for eight months.
As for Pettyjohn, she is doing well and meets with the oncologist for a follow-up next week.