As a patient navigator at UConn Health Center, Pamela Nixon deals daily with some of the most difficult life issues any of us will face.
She serves as a guide for cancer patients and helps them cope with a new reality.
"I work with cancer patients, primarily newly diagnosed cancer patients,” Nixon said. "It could be anything, from information about their disease states, treatment options (to) questions to be able to ask their doctor."
Patient navigators fulfill a role doctors and family members are not always able to. They take people past the initial shock of a diagnosis and carry them through things like financial and insurance hurdles.
"You need a special personality to do that job. Very calming, smoothing,” John Vichi, a cancer survivor, said.
He’s survived cancer—twice.
First he survived prostate cancer; then bladder cancer.
Vichi has been working with Pam for more than two years and said her support has been invaluable not just to him, but also to his family, and she’s made a big difference.
“You have an advocate helping you through the system,” Vichi said.
Nixon is one of two patient navigators in the state. The other one works at Hartford Hospital.
This year alone, Nixon will see more than 600 patients. She said she'll be with them from the first day of their diagnosis right up until the moment they can say they are cancer-free.
"It helps us to reach more patients -- patients who are uninsured or underinsured. It is the vehicle for us to reach these patients and help them through their diagnosis,” Michelle Wolf, of the American Cancer Society, said.
It’s a lifeline when patients need it most.
“If I just took one thing off of their plate or I put a smile on their face, that's good by me,” Nixon said.