You’ve had your mammogram and been called back for additional imaging or treatment. Now what? At Overlook, there is help on hand to get you through the process.
By Alyson Black
“This might be the year that there’s a change in your breast pattern. This might be the year you hear, ‘You need a biopsy’ or ‘You have breast cancer.’ When that happens to a woman, it’s like she shatters inside.”
Jasmin Torres says she sees this too often. But as the patient navigator at the Breast Center at Overlook Hospital, Torres is there to help women get the care they need. “It’s scary just to come in and have the mammogram,” she says. “With all the stories that you hear about breast cancer—most women know someone who has it or has had it—a lot of women come in with anxiety. I’m there to take the guesswork out of getting through the breast-cancer system.”
Torres usually becomes involved in a woman’s care if she has been called back following a routine (or screening) mammogram, or as a result of an abnormal finding in a diagnostic mammogram. When a radiologist makes a recommendation for biopsy, she’ll often be called in to serve as an advocate for the patient; other times, a woman may be referred to Torres by an oncologist, surgeon, or another referring physician to the Breast Center.
“Most biopsies come back benign, but before we even know the results I have guided a woman to that point; I get involved to get the patient to the next stage,” she explains. “It’s very overwhelming for a woman. When that doctor comes in, she’s thinking, I’ve got cancer. Often patients start to cry. They have questions. They’re scared. They’ve never faced something like this before. I try to be an active listener and a good listener; compassionate and empathetic. Most women are by themselves. I’ll stay with them and we’ll talk after the radiologist leaves. I’ll explain that my role is to guide her through this confusing process.”
In doing so, Torres’s list of responsibilities is seemingly endless. “The first step is to communicate with the referring physician’s office,” she says. “I’ll expedite the process to get reports to the doctor almost immediately so the referring physician is aware of the need for a biopsy.” Torres assists in helping women schedule appointments for follow-up mammograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, and other procedures. Under the direction of Breast Center physicians and nurses, she secures referrals to surgeons, genetic counselors, nutritionists, and oncologists. She coordinates services and resources, putting women in touch with such organizations as the American Cancer Society, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and Pathways. For patients who are uninsured or underinsured, she will help find alternate resources to obtain grants for care.
Or she might just pick up the phone to remind a patient that she is not alone: “I’ll call the patient at home the next day,” she says. “It’s not necessarily for every patient, but it’s for the ones I know are having a harder time. I’ll call and say, ‘I know it was overwhelming. Did you understand everything that the radiologist told you? Have you discussed with your doctor the need for a biopsy?’ ”
Torres is celebrating her first anniversary as the Breast Center’s patient navigator, having been in the position since last September when it was funded by an anonymous donor who wanted a person available to patients as needed. But she herself recognized the same need when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago at age 43. “It was a scary process,” she says. “I went through the whole thing with her—surgery, chemotherapy, radiation appointments … She couldn’t think straight. She was so devastated, she thought she was going to die. I felt a tremendous disconnect between all of the different parties involved in her care. And I thought, There’s got to be a better way.”
Torres is proud to devote herself to showing women that there is a better way. “Our goal first and foremost is to find cancer in its earliest stages, and so I constantly remind women to keep their mammography appointments even if they’re scared,” she says. “I try to remind them that this is important—that they have to do this. Because if there is something there, a woman has to be treated as early as possible.
“But she should also know that there is a person who can be her advocate, get her through the process, and get her the care she deserves. I want to make her process as easy as possible. Every woman who comes through our center should know that there is a person who will direct her through the maze of breast healthcare.”
Know Before You Go
Preparing for your mammogram
Jasmin Torres, patient navigator at the Breast Center at Overlook Hospital, offers these tips for every woman about to have a mammogram.
- Before you arrive, get a prescription from a referring physician.
- If you’ve had a mammogram outside of Overlook, obtain your prior films and bring them with you. “Prior imaging is an important part of diagnosis,” she says.
- Do not use any powders, deodorant, lotions, and perfumes before your test, as the chemicals in these products can mimic calcifications that call for further testing. “I stress this so much: Washing with soap and water in the shower isn’t enough,” says Torres. “Scrub thoroughly under your arms with a clean washcloth to remove any residual deodorant. It’s worth doing.”
- Understand the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram. A screening mammogram is a routine exam; no symptoms are present. A diagnostic mammogram is prescribed if something is flagged in the screening mammogram, or if you have symptoms: a lump, nipple discharge, or focal breast pain.
- If you’re scheduled for a diagnostic mammogram, bring someone with you if you can. If a radiologist needs to speak with you about your results, it is helpful to have another set of ears to share in the listening.
- Try not to be overly anxious. “This is easy for me to say,” Torres acknowledges, “but I wish patients would come in knowing that most women’s results will be normal.”
About the Breast Center
The Breast Center at Overlook Hospital is a state-of-the-art facility for screening, diagnosis, and treatment. Its staff is proud to offer compassionate care in a comfortable setting. Among the Center’s benefits:
- All-digital mammography, which offers clearer images; faster imaging; less wait for scheduling and results; and Computer Assisted Detection, an electronic screening process that serves as a second reader to the radiologist, placing markers on images where problems may exist.
- Ultrasound machines with technicians dedicated only to breast ultrasound.
- Minimally invasive options for biopsy when a woman needs one.
- Mammogram machines outfitted with foam to make compression more comfortable.
- Soothing waiting rooms and dressing rooms, plus spa-like robes.
To contact the Breast Center at Overlook Hospital, call (866) 618-3270.