Why do so many breast cancer patients call this woman an “angel in their life”?

Aurora Medical Center Oshkosh offers patients a cancer nurse navigator who helps them navigate resources and information throughout their cancer journey. Tracy Bliske, RN has been in nursing for more than 20 years and became a breast cancer nurse navigator two years ago. She says it doesn’t feel like a job, it’s a passion.

Tracy Bliske with breast cancer survivors at the 2014 Vince Lombardi Cancer Walk

Jamie Hansen, breast cancer survivor; Amy Jones, RN Vince Lombardi Cancer Center; Tracy Bliske, RN; and Renata Bacon, breast cancer survivor at the 2014 Lombardi Walk for Cancer in Oshkosh

Q: WHAT IS A NURSE NAVIGATOR AND WHAT IS YOUR ROLE IN CARING FOR PATIENTS AT AURORA MEDICAL CENTER OSHKOSH?

A: My role as a breast cancer nurse navigator is a very personalized service. I ask myself, for every patient, “What can I do to help her?” I place myself in each and every patient’s shoes. I meet with them right away, as soon as she has her first breast biopsy, before we know whether or not it’s cancer. I ask questions, I get to know them and talk them through the process from the beginning.

Q: WHAT KINDS OF THINGS DO YOU DO FOR THE PATIENT THAT MAKES IT SUCH A PERSONAL SERVICE?

A: Whether it’s helping with appointments, preparing for surgery, finding resources for a wig, getting them started with an exercise and nutrition program, finding a support group, helping them with financial or FMLA paperwork—I do all of that. I even help them plan out a schedule, an end-of-journey goal that’s not just about survivorship, but is about enjoying life. Maybe even scheduling a vacation, I’m here for them every step of the way.

Q: YOU ALMOST SOUND LIKE YOU’RE PART NURSE-PART COUNSELOR.

A: Oh yes, and it’s so fulfilling. Hearing a patient say, “Just seeing your smile made all the difference,” or holding my arm and saying, “I’m so glad you’re here, you’re like a special angel in my life.” I get to be that constant familiar face always letting them know that someone really does care. It can make such a difference.

Q: IT SOUNDS LIKE IT CAN BE AN EMOTIONAL JOURNEY FOR YOU TOO, WHY DO YOU IT?

A: This doesn’t really feel like a job to me. I’ll never forget when I was 12-years-old and my grandmother, June, passed away from cancer. I’ll never forget her hospice nurse. I remember thinking, “I’m going to give back to families the way she gave back to ours.” So many of the patients have become my friends and we do events together in the community to raise awareness and money. It’s really a team effort, and we’ve got a great group here.

Q: IN 2014, AURORA MEDICAL CENTER OSHKOSH WAS NAMED A BREAST CENTER OF EXCELLENCE BY USA TODAY. WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT THE KIND OF CARE WOMEN RECEIVE THERE?

A: Well, it’s an honor given to us by women; they chose us. That means we’re doing something right. I am so proud to work with such an amazing team. We have really high standards, and we hold ourselves accountable. But it’s not a tough thing to do when you love helping people, so we’re happy to do it. Helping patients is incredibly rewarding.

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