Breast Health NavigatorsPartners in the Fight


A Breast Health Navigator helps patients and their families maneuver successfully through the health care system. The navigator also provides emotional support and helps guide patients through their breast cancer treatment – from diagnosis to recovery and beyond.

Hurley Medical Center

Marsha Schmit, Breast Health Nurse Navigator, understands what it means to fight cancer; she’s a survivor, herself. She has held her position at Hurley since 2008. “My role is to educate, advocate and support breast cancer patients,” she says. “When someone hears the word ‘cancer,’ the whole world seems to stop.” The Navigator provides women with the tools they need to get through the process and helps them find the resources to do so. Marsha walks patients through the treatment process, advising them of what to expect. Her duties include coordinating care plans, finding support groups and scheduling necessary testing. She also meets one-on-one with family members.

Marsha helps connect patients with available community resources. Because of the illness and lengthy treatments, some breast cancer patients fall on hard times. “It’s amazing how many people lose their home, jobs, or even their husbands. We are fortunate to receive many donations from generous people in the community.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a good reminder for women to get a breast exam. “Early screening is essential,” Marsha advises, “especially if there is a family history. The sooner you get treatment, the better off you are. Don’t let fear immobilize you.”

McLaren Flint

At the Karmanos Cancer Center, the oncology nurse navigator helps guide patients through the complex world of cancer treatment and the health care system, according to Ben Wolbert, Nurse Manager of Station Care Services. The nurse navigator follows a patient from diagnosis to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, and beyond. “Being a nurse navigator is very rewarding,” says Ben. “They have relationships with patients through their entire journey.”

Kari Wanless, Certified Oncology Nurse Navigator, began her duties in September. She gets to know the patients and is on hand to answer questions. One of the most important things a navigator does is to educate the patient and their families about the illness and the treatment of it, says Ben. She communicates with the primary care physician. In addition, she identifies any barriers the patient may have, and links them to community resources, such as financial assistance, transportation services, insurance and payment assistance, and emotional services.

According to Ben, a nurse navigator at McLaren managed services for 156 cancer patients in the last year, 90 of which had breast cancer. McLaren’s nurse navigator speaks at community events and works with support groups. McLaren also offers free screening events throughout the year.


Genesys Regional Medical Center

Deborah Zdonek, MSN, RN, OCN is an Oncology Nurse Navigator. She currently works with Dr. Linsey Gold, Certified Breast Surgeon, and Dr. Rabbie Hanna, Gynecological Oncologist. “My primary responsibility is to help patients traverse the oncology system,” says Deborah. “We provide education, identify special needs, and help them understand their treatment options.” She also connects patients with community agencies for things such as transportation or financial assistance.

“As a nurse, we are often the one a patient feels they can talk to a little more easily,” Deborah says. She has also joined forces with Marsha Schmit of Hurley to provide a Breast Cancer Support Group at the Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute.

“Women must take preventative steps,” says Deborah. “Early detection is so important.” Genesys is also a supporter of the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event, a walk held in October to support breast cancer survivors, raise awareness of the disease and raise research funding.


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