Story by: Kim Huston on September 25, 2020
When Frances Price, R.N., was a teenager, she felt a calling to nursing. She had watched her grandfather struggle with health complications, including heart attacks and strokes. Today, as a patient navigator with Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, she helps children and families through their entire journey with childhood cancer.
“I always knew I wanted to do pediatrics,” Frances said. “I started my career at Norton Children’s Hospital working on a medical unit for toddlers. I started that 39 years ago, if you can believe it.”
After some time, she took a third-shift supervisory nursing role, becoming the supervisor of several units, including the oncology/cancer unit, now known as the Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center.
“That’s when oncology kind of fell in my lap and I found my niche,” Frances said.
When Frances started her career in nursing, patient navigator roles did not exist. Patient navigator roles developed over time for a good reason: 84% of kids with childhood cancer now survive five years or more, according to the American Cancer Society, compared with around 58% when Frances began her career.
While the role didn’t exist in a formal way at the start of her career, she still had examples of care that helped her forge the way.
“There were people who were doing this work,” Frances said. “It just didn’t have a name.”
Her mentor, a nurse practitioner she worked with named Kathy Bertolone, wore many hats that would come into play in Frances’ role.
“I saw how she just lived pediatric oncology and how she pulled herself in,” Frances said. “She had many roles: nurse practitioner helping with treatment, seeing patients in the office, and doing lots of education with families and the nursing staff. I thought, ‘I want to be like her.’”
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As treatments became more effective and complex, the role of the patient navigator was needed to help families at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute. Frances’ role as a patient navigator means she educates and advocates for families throughout the care journey.
“The patient navigator position was developed because families really needed some more one-on-one time with a dedicated person who could help advocate for them and educate them on what they needed to know throughout the process,” Frances said. “I am their point of contact and there with them through the entire journey.”
She meets with families soon after a child is diagnosed. She helps answer any questions about their child’s specific diagnosis, treatment plan and much more.
“Pediatric cancer can be very challenging, but to be able to help these families and navigate for them when they’re at their worst, it’s a privilege,” Frances said. “Cancer treatment is a world that many are not familiar with. Helping them make their way through the system, helping them to understand treatments, what life is going to look like during and after they leave [the hospital], and the precautions they have to take … it’s what motivates me.”
Over the years, Frances has had the opportunity to attend the first communions, birthday and graduation parties and weddings of former patients.
“Whenever you tell somebody you work with kids with cancer, they respond with ‘oh my gosh.’ But I know that we have so many survivors, and I know the outcomes can be good.”