Those two little words, spoken in less than one second, can have one of the greatest impacts on a person’s life. After the initial shock subsides, patients are left to come to terms with their new diagnosis and make life-changing decisions. As the days go by, the questions accumulate, and anxiety sinks in.
“What does my future look like?”
“How will I get through this?”
“Where do I even begin?”
That’s where Blanche Lasta, BSN, RN, comes in. As a nurse navigator at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, a certified member of the MD Anderson Cancer Network, Lasta acts as a human GPS, easing stress and guiding patients throughout their entire cancer journey.
“When a patient hears there is a cancer diagnosis, it’s very overwhelming,” Lasta says. “My job is to break it down, step by step, and help them manage and take control of their cancer care.”
‘They become like family’
When a new thoracic patient is diagnosed, Lasta is one of the first individuals to contact her. She immediately establishes a relationship and lets patients know whom to contact if they have any questions.
“If our patients ever need anything, we’re always here,” Lasta says of herself and fellow nurse navigators. “I take my patients’ treatment very personally — they become like family to me.”
Lasta’s heartfelt care and honesty don’t go unnoticed by her patients.
“I would have been lost if it weren’t for Blanche,” says Cynthia Pilcher, a lung cancer patient. “She has been my stone of support during my cancer treatment.”
Pilcher was diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer in late 2010. She says Lasta was there when she first got the diagnosis.
“It was scary,” Pilcher says. “I didn’t understand what was going on or anything about cancer. I was by myself, and Blanche comforted me and explained how we were going to proceed. By the time I left there, I didn’t feel so bad.”
Pilcher says she’s called Lasta numerous times throughout the years. Having an open line of communication has proven essential for her cancer treatment, because she lives four hours away from Ellis Fischel.
“As a cancer patient, you need someone that you can rely on,” Pilcher says. “If I didn’t feel good, I would call Blanche.
When my oxygen was low, I’d call her. If there was anything I didn’t understand, I could ask. I never felt awkward, and Blanche always assured me that answering questions was OK.”
A cohesive relationship
Lasta says she answers at least 60 calls and messages every day from patients. To stay up to date on each individual’s treatment plan, she stays in close contact with the multidisciplinary care teams.
“We have a very cohesive relationship,” Lasta says. “To be able to take some of the burden off of our doctors and answer patients’ questions and ease their worries and fears is a really good feeling.”
Throughout their cancer journey, patients interact with many different specialties and physicians, and Lasta says this constant communication is crucial.
Now five years cancer free, Pilcher credits her recovery to Lasta and the Ellis Fischel team.
“I can’t say enough good things about Blanche and the team,” Pilcher says. “Blanche Lasta is one of my No. 1 people, and Ellis Fischel has got to be one of the best institutions I’ve ever been. If it weren’t for them, I don’t know where I would be today.”
Ellis Fischel currently has four nurse navigators dedicated to helping patients with breast, head and neck, lung and gastrointestinal cancer.