Komen St. Louis Community Partner: Washington University in St. Louis’ Breast Cancer Patient Navigator Project

Community Partner

Vanessa Finnie was unemployed and without health insurance when she discovered a lump in her right breast.

She had a feeling it was cancerous, but fear caused her to wait six years before seeking medical attention. She says, “It wasn’t the fear of having cancer; it was the fear of affording it.”

However, as she struggled to keep her apartment and find permanent work, the lump continued to grow. Eventually, in 2011, Vanessa sought treatment.

At the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center, Vanessa was diagnosed with bi-lateral invasive ductal cancer in her right breast and lobular carcinoma in her left breast. Then, she was introduced to Patient Navigator Vickie Knighten.

This is the 10th year of Komen St. Louis funding for Washington University’s Breast Cancer Patient Navigator Project. And Vickie has been there from the beginning.

As a full-time patient navigator, Vickie works with about 125 patients each year. Her job is to bridge the gap, whatever that gap may be, in order to reduce breast cancer mortality rates. She begins by working with patients as soon as their mammograms come back abnormal. “I try to find any resource possible to help,” she says.

This includes explaining medical terms and treatments in easily understood words, making sure patients know what to expect going through treatment, and lending emotional support by holding patients’ hands through treatment sessions.

“Some women don’t need as much help as others,” she says, “and a lot of them just need a friend.”

Vickie also works to ensure patients are able to continue with their treatment, despite any possible barriers. According to Vickie, the reasons some patients are noncompliant with their breast cancer treatment are varied and complicated. Some lack transportation and miss their appointments, while others must choose between working to pay bills and continuing their medication. Vickie makes follow-up calls if the women miss appointments, and she helps them apply for financial resources to keep roofs over their heads.

For patient Vanessa, Vickie was invaluable in providing many of these services.

“Vickie has been marvelous from the first appointment,” Vanessa says. “She listened to me when I needed help. She got in touch with a nurse to get my Social Security. If I needed gas for my car, she made sure I was all right. She even told me what to do when I was two months behind on my rent.”

Thanks to Vickie and the Breast Cancer Patient Navigator Project, Vanessa was able to complete her treatment. Now she intends to give back and reach out to other African-American women with breast cancer.

“It’s my life’s mission to help other women get through it,” she says. “The fact that I am a survivor is all the fuel I need.”

In 2013, Komen St. Louis granted $2.2 million to 13 local breast health programs in our 17-county Missouri/Illinois service area, including The Breast Cancer Patient Navigator Project at Washington University in St. Louis. These grants help fund breast health and breast cancer screening, education and patient navigation services for those in our community who otherwise may not have access due to low income, lack of insurance or other barriers.


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