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Navigating The Journey

One of the most critical members of a woman’s breast cancer care team is her patient navigator.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis — or even an abnormal mammogram — can be a scary moment for any woman. At Centegra Health System, there is always someone to go through the journey with you.

“A breast health navigator is the go-to person for a newly diagnosed patient,” said Karla Hernandez, RN certified breast health navigator at Centegra Health System. “Navigation happens at every possible step, from screening to an abnormal mammogram to the biopsy. If breast cancer is found, I guide the patient through the diagnosis, from giving her results to treatment. I’m a major point of contact to answer any questions, and when women are diagnosed they usually have quite a few.”

Centegra’s team approach means that everyone works together to meet the needs of patients, whether those are medical or emotional. This approach helps break barriers to care that range from cultural and language challenges to financial and transportation issues.

Guiding the Patient

Hernandez has been with Centegra since April 2015. She brings with her four years of experience working with low-income and uninsured women who needed care or screening at the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer program. This experience helped shape her mindset when it comes to helping women in the community.

“Getting to know the patients is important to me because it helps me provide them with the personalized support they need,” Hernandez said. “Whether it’s a young woman who wants to get back to her regular exercise routine to help prevent lymphedema, or a woman who wants to get involved with our HOPE support group and talk with someone who’s had breast cancer in the past, or any other of a number of concerns, we provide patients with the educational, emotional and social support they need.”

Hernandez helps lead the HOPE support group along with a retired nurse, who is also a breast cancer survivor, and the Centegra supervisor of pastoral care. Women involved in the group come up with their own topics, and the leaders facilitate and organize meetings.

“We also have weekly breast conferences where we meet with a multidisciplinary group of physicians to review our breast cases. Through these regular meetings we improve the quality of cancer care,” Hernandez said.

The breast health navigator can also help out with setting up wig measurements, nutritional counseling or simply providing patients with a friendly face and a listening ear during a difficult time.

“I love being the familiar face women can go to, whatever they need,” Hernandez said. “Just giving them that one person they know they can call, or who they know will be there on the day of a procedure — we as navigators strive to provide comfort to all of our patients.”

For more information on breast health services at Centegra Health System, visit