SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- October is breast cancer awareness month. Throughout the month, Western Mass News is digging deeper, looking into the latest trends and procedures to fight this disease.

Getting a breast cancer diagnosis can be heart stopping and overwhelming.

Tonight, we introduce you to a true survivor and discover the role of something called a nurse navigator.

"September 29, 2018, my husband and I got married. We went away on our honeymoon, came back and about two weeks later, I started spontaneously leaking from my left nipple," said Kate Crowley of Easthampton.

Crowley, 35, of Easthampton called her doctor who told her to come in immediately.

"I had two mammograms, ultrasounds. The next week was biopsies and November 19, the day after my 35th birthday, I was diagnosed with Stage II-B, Grade III invasive carcinoma," Crowley explained.

The diagnosis - heartbreaking - but Crowley said she and her husband and family, her doctors and nurses tackled it head on.

Admittedly, navigating the sea of appointments, treatments was completely overwhelming - until Crowley met her personal nurse navigator assigned to help her through, well, everything.

"She or he is the person that helps guide a cancer patient through the journey, from diagnosis to survivorship," said Baystate nurse navigator Pam Fisk.

Fisk is an RN and nurse navigator at Baystate Medical Center's Breast and Wellness Center. She told Western Mass News that a navigator is just as it sounds: a point person for each patients, designed to be there from diagnosis, to treatments - even coordinating rides to appointments - and a shoulder to lean on.

"It's sort of to navigate the waters, you know. When they come in with a cancer diagnosis, they're a person first and then they get this ugly thing thrown at them, so we try to help them sort through that and remember that they are a person first," Fisk added.

Someone to look at the bigger picture as well.

"I look at people holistically and I think that's what a navigator does. They look at not just the disease entity that brings them in, but looks at the person's family and their career and their friends and the life that they had before this happened," Fisk explained.

Crowley added, "She just really helped to map out the experience because I had a double mastectomy which is a huge surgery...and it wasn't just like, 'Here's the answer to your question.' It was 'How are you?' You know like, not how do you feel physically, it's how do you feel here."

Just over one year after her diagnosis, "and as I sit here right now, we don't use the word cure for five years or so because the re-occurrence rate is high with breast cancer, but as I sit here right now, I do not have any cancer in my body."

Right now, Baystate's Breast and Wellness Center has three nurse navigators with more, we're told, being added to the staff in the weeks to come.

Western Mass News is a proud partner with this year's Rays of Hope walk. Be sure to come out and join us for the event on Sunday, October 27.

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Copyright 2019 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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