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Nurse navigators guide breast cancer patients through treatment

Julie Aldridge is a nurse navigator for Amanda Cornell. (KATU)

Amanda Cornell was incredibly overwhelmed when she found out she had breast cancer and didn't even know where to start.

That's when the team at the Ruth J. Spear Breast Center at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Oregon told her to call Julie Aldridge.

Aldridge is a nurse navigator, meaning she guides people through the scary world of breast cancer.

"I always say that I think patients get a mini medical degree with this diagnosis and they're asked to make all these decisions which they have no history in making those types of decisions," Aldridge said.

The first nurse navigator program was launched in 1990. They're now in hospitals around the country but not always available to every breast cancer patient.

There's a growing movement to train more nurses and expand the program. Cornell said having Aldridge around was like having a life coach, helping her take control when it seemed impossible.

"When I found out I was going to lose my left breast, that was probably harder than anything and so I did go to Julie and she showed me pictures of patients who've gone through mastectomies and I though, 'Oh, that doesn't look so bad,'" Cornell said.

"That's what I do ... I take patients off the ceiling after this horrible diagnosis and bring everything down and put it in a framework and they can move forward," Aldridge said.

Cornell is cancer-free after a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She says she feels lucky, not only because she survived, but because she walked away with a lifesaver and a new friend.

"It's wonderful to just help somebody's day be easier, really to ease their way in a really difficult time is amazing. I love it," Aldridge said.

If you or a loved one is facing a cancer diagnosis, ask your oncology team about a nurse navigator.

You can also call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to find out if there is a patient navigator program in your area.

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