Health Check: Breast health navigator program

It's been more than five years since Carolyn Petreccia was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"Actually I was in denial for a little bit," Petreccia said.

And that's when Margot Powell, a nurse and breast health navigator at Rhode Island Hospital, came in to the picture.

"She was always a helping hand. She actually came down in to an operating room with me and held my hand," Petreccia said.

As a breast health navigator, Powell has coordinated Petreccia's visits from chemotherapy and surgery to radiation and beyond.

"Education is always important because when you're stressed you don't always hear what is said the first time. Sometimes it's the sixth or seventh time (when) it finally sinks in," Powell said.

"Margot is really like a guardian angel. She was there for everything whether you were having trouble with side effects that she could get to the doctor quicker, your medications, the fear factor of things that were going on with your body especially some of the physical things that start going on when you go through chemo and radiation," Petreccia said.

It's been a few years since Carolyn's treatments ended and she's now considered cancer free. But the visits to Rhode Island Hospital continue and Powell is there every step of the way.

"When women finish their treatments, sometimes that's the scariest and depressing time. Because all along they've been doing something for themselves, following the directions they've been given. Then all of a sudden we say, 'OK, you're done', and it's very scary because they feel like they're not doing something every day for it. But we follow them very closely to make sure they get their breast testing, every six months usually," Powell said.

And now when Petreccia makes her annual or semi-annual visit, she says she feels like she's coming home.

"Life is good. Life is very, very good," she said.

There are two breast health navigators at Rhode Island Hospital.

Over the years, Powell said they've been there for almost 1,000 women, many of them they now call friend.