Nursing News

Nurses at the Forefront of Breast Cancer Programs and Initiatives

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By Melissa Wirkus, contributing writer

October 3, 2011 - October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and nurses across the United States are making a difference in the lives of patients and survivors every day through their leadership in breast cancer programs.

Nurse-led breast cancer programs are gaining traction in nursing schools, communities and hospitals and are proving to be excellent resources in awareness, prevention, survivorship and treatment. NurseZone takes a look at three nurses who are making an impact on breast cancer through their involvement.

Scholar designs innovative breast cancer education for nurses

NurseZone Profiles Nurses Helping Breast Cancer Programs
Sandra W. McLeskey, RN, Ph.D., developed online learning modules to improve breast cancer education for nursing students and practicing RNs.

Sandra W. McLeskey, RN, Ph.D., professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSN), has transformed the way students and practicing nurses learn about breast cancer through the development of Web-based models that focus on evidence-based research.

“We made the modules for the nursing students here at the UMSN because the cancer education that the students were receiving was very fragmented and very task-oriented,” McLeskey explained. “We wanted to have some breast cancer-specific information that was available to the students that was more evidence-based and expert driven.”

McLeskey created the modules while funded as a Komen Maryland scholar-in-residence; the scholar-in-residence program is now on its sixth year of awarded funding from the Maryland affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

The online modules give students and other health care professionals access to a resource that they can go back to and access at any time if they have questions or need more information about a specific topic. Since launching at the UMSN, the modules have been used at several other nursing schools and by practicing nurses as well, and are constantly updated with current information and developments.

In addition to funding McLeskey’s work to create the modules, the grant also provides funds for visiting professors specializing in breast cancer to spend a week on campus with the students, and allows students to attend various breast cancer conferences and symposiums throughout the year.

Although McLeskey recently passed her role as director of the Komen Maryland Affiliate Nursing Partnership on to her colleague, Deborah McGuire, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, she is still heavily involved in the initiative and encourages nurses to get more involved in evidence-based breast cancer initiatives.

“Nurses have an obligation to educate themselves and find out what the accurate information is. There’s so much inaccurate information and hearsay around, that we’re not doing our patients any favors by perpetuating that. We need to make sure we have accurate information and can give our patients real help.”

Nurse-turned-patient impacts breast density awareness

Cindy DiFrancesco, RN, BSN, admits that she didn’t know much about breast density until she was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago at Stage 4, after having a normal mammogram less than a year earlier. “At the time, I had really never heard that breast density was a predictive factor at all.”

The subject of breast density has made headlines recently due to legislation that would require doctors to inform women if they have dense breast tissue that could cause cancer to go undetected on a mammogram. Bills around this issue are currently pending in several states including California and New York, while similar legislation has already passed in Connecticut and Texas.

Since her diagnosis, DiFrancesco has been working with a breast density advocacy group and a representative in the Ohio House of Representatives to get legislation for the notification of breast density started.

“So many women get a report back of a normal mammogram and think they’re fine and that they are off the hook for another year,” she said. “But if they don’t know their density and know to ask for other screenings, they could be at risk. I am working on the breast density cause to spare other women from going through the same journey.”

DiFrancesco contacted the “Are You Dense?” advocacy organization, which works to inform the public about dense breast tissue and its significance for the early detection of breast cancer, when she was preparing her presentation to her local congressman. They provided her with the resources, support and education to advocate for the cause.

“It’s so important to get the word out there that women should know, and if they’re not told their breast density, they should ask. Education is power.”

Group survivorship program improves quality of life 

NurseZone Profiles Nurses Helping Breast Cancer Programs
Kathryn Trotter, RN, CNM, FNP, created a shared appointment model for breast cancer survivors that focuses on education, support and assessment.

What started as a small pilot program spearheaded by Kathryn Trotter, RN, CNM, FNP, assistant professor at Duke School of Nursing and nurse practitioner at Duke Breast Clinic, has now turned into a successful model of care for breast cancer survivors.

The Breast Cancer Survivorship Clinic at Duke, also known as “Centering Survivorship,” is patient care for breast cancer survivors provided in a group visit format--and it’s paving the way in the survivorship arena.

“This shared medical appointment is an innovative model where we have six breast cancer survivors that come in at the same time,” Trotter said. “It’s an empowerment model where they take their own blood pressure and weight and record their stats in their survivorship care model and treatment plan.”

The visit also includes a 45-minute facilitated group discussion and time for the women to get their mammograms, exams, prescriptions and personalized nutrition information all in one spot.

“The model is based on three pillars: education, support and assessment,” Trotter said. “The patients love it. They feel like it’s a great model where they can get their needs met.”

A nutritionist, physical therapist and social worker are also available for patients of the clinic. Due to the success of the program, similar approaches are being evaluated for survivors of prostate and brain cancer.

“Everyone is starting to pay attention to survivor care now. More research needs to be done about the group model of care, but we need to look at outcomes,” Trotter said. “No, it doesn’t prevent breast cancer from reoccurring, we can’t say that. But we can say that quality of life may be better, anxiety levels may be down and coping mechanisms improved.”


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