Release Date: 4/15/2011
Breast care navigator leads the way
Corinne Coppinger, breast care navigator in St. Anthony’s Cancer Care Center, works on a treatment plan for a patient. Coppinger helps breast cancer patients navigate the care process, following their diagnosis.
You’ve just received the dreaded diagnosis – breast cancer. The doctor is explaining what is going to happen next – the tests, the treatments, the options. You know she is talking to you, because her mouth is moving; you’re trying to listen, but your mind is racing to simply register the news that you have breast cancer.
Not to worry – Corinne Coppinger has your back. Coppinger, 32, is a board-certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, who holds the title of Breast Care Navigator at St. Anthony’s Medical Center. Her title describes exactly what she does – navigates the care process for breast cancer patients.
“I work with St. Anthony’s breast surgeon, Dr. Sarah Snell, listening to everything she tells a newly diagnosed patient about her options, her treatment plan, appointments she will need,” Coppinger said. “When the doctor leaves the room, I stay with the patient. Women often are in shock from hearing the diagnosis, and they’re trying to remember what the doctor said. I answer all of their questions and go over all of their paperwork.
Before the patient leaves the doctor’s office, her appointments – for lab work, x-rays, MRI, PETSCAN and/or other specialists – are made for her. The goal is to complete all of the tests within seven days, ending with a second visit to Dr. Snell, to make the final surgical decision.
“Not all treatment plans are the same – each one is tailored to that individual patient,” Coppinger said. “I give the patient detailed information, like ‘Go to admitting first;’ and I direct them how to get there. It’s the small things that make everything more stressful. The day after their appointment, I try to call the patients, just to touch base with them and see if they have any more questions. I want to let them know I’m thinking about them, so they don’t feel so alone.”
Coppinger continues her “hands-on” care throughout each woman’s testing and treatment schedule, frequently showing up to comfort and cheer them on. “I encourage them, tell them how strong they are and how proud I am of them,” Coppinger said. “In some ways, breast cancer treatment is a lot like having a baby – these women go through hell for 12 months; and, when it’s over, they say, ‘I can’t believe I did it!’ ”
Coppinger understands the analogy better than most – she worked as a nurse in Labor and Delivery at St. John’s Mercy Hospital in Washington, Mo., for 10 years before joining St. Anthony’s Cancer Care Center last December.
“I was looking for something with more opportunity, where I could grow, and this job is a really good fit,” Coppinger said. “Since it’s a new position, I have the opportunity to help shape it to meet our patients’ needs. I want to help them feel more connected and less isolated. I want to walk with them down the path they need to go, supporting them and making sure they understand everything.”
Besides direct patient care and communication, Coppinger also collects data on cancer patients, promotes cancer prevention through community outreach and develops educational materials for cancer patients.
She admits, her job can be stressful and, yes, she sometimes gets depressed. “Honestly, some days are bad; some days I go home and cry, too,” she said. “But it also can be uplifting – I get to see the survivors. The other day a patient said, ‘I was really sick, but now look at me!’ That kind of spirit makes any stress I experience all worth it. The patients truly keep me going.”
And it’s Coppinger’s compassion that helps keep her patients going. She witnessed compassion in action when she was seven years old and her grandpa was dying from cancer. His compassionate caregivers made her want to be like them – to be a nurse.
“My patients need someone who understands what they’re going through – someone who will walk the walk with them,” Coppinger said. “It’s very rewarding to know I helped them through this very difficult part of their lives and made it just a little better.”
Coppinger and her husband, Kyle, live in Union, Mo., with daughters Grace, 9, and Ella, 7.
For information, please call our Health Access Line at 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 800-554-9550 or visit find a physician online.
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