In Great Hands — Kerin Malley, Breast Cancer Navigator


Margaret Gottlieb (left) and Kerin MalleyMargaret Gottlieb (pictured on left) is a retired high school math teacher who lives in Acton and was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2019. Since then, all of her cancer care, including chemotherapy, a mastectomy, and immunology infusions, has been at Emerson.

Her care team includes Kerin Malley, BSN, RN, breast cancer navigator (on right in photo); Elizaveta Ragulin Coyne, MD, FACS, surgeon; Uma Narayanasami, MD, medical oncologist; Eriko Frank, LICSW, social worker; and infusion nurses Stephanie Girourd and Lauren Roemer.

“I feel like my care team is one big, happy family. I have gotten to know them and they have gotten to know me.”

Margaret has a special relationship with all members of her care team, and especially Kerin. In her words:

“Kerin is like my right hand. You have a lot of appointments when you have breast cancer. It is a scary time. During chemotherapy, both of my sons who live in California got to know Kerin well and she answered all of their questions. I was not able to have my family with me for my mastectomy surgery because it was in April during the peak of the pandemic when visitors were not allowed. But Kerin was with me every step of the way. She met me at Emerson early in the morning on the day of my surgery and sat with me. She kept me calm.

“She is always on the other end of a call, or available in person whenever I need her. She is very knowledgeable about cancer care and medications. I was in great hands with Kerin and the rest of my care team at Emerson. Today I feel fabulous. I keep busy and look forward to reuniting with my family as soon as the pandemic is over.”

A Q&A with Emerson’s Breast Cancer Navigator

Many people know Kerin Malley, BSN, RN, as “my right hand.” As Emerson’s breast cancer navigator, she guides patients through their journey with breast cancer at Emerson Hospital and the Mass General Cancer Center at Emerson Hospital – Bethke. We sat down with Kerin to learn more about her role and how her work and compassion help patients during some of the hardest times of their lives.

What is a breast cancer navigator?

A breast cancer navigator is a support person who guides and supports patients with breast cancer throughout their cancer care journey to ensure they have a smooth and successful experience. The navigator is a patient advocate, a point of contact for patients’ physicians, a support system for patients and their family members, and a source for valuable community resources.

How do you help your patients?

I provide patients with information and education to reduce stress, help them understand their treatment options, empower them to participate in decision making related to their care, and assure they complete all aspects of their treatment for the best possible outcomes. I help expedite appointments by working with staff across disciplines — including oncology and lab. I also advocate for patients so they receive timely access to necessary services, such as genetic counseling/testing, nutrition, social work, rehabilitation, and integrated services within the Emerson and Mass General communities.

What is a typical day like for you?

I meet people who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer and work with patients in various stages of their treatment. I attend appointments with patients, check in with them during their treatments and follow-up care, and schedule/coordinate their care in all areas, such as medical, infusion, and radiation oncology.

What is your philosophy on patient care?

My goal as a nurse navigator is to learn the physical, psychological, and social needs of my patients. I believe in patient-centered care, meaning the patient’s needs, values, and preferences are the highest priority. I build relationships with each patient by listening, informing, and involving them in their care plan.

What is most fulfilling in your work?

The most fulfilling part of being a nurse and working with oncology patients are the relationships and connections I form with patients and their families. I also enjoy witnessing their courage and determination as they complete each stage of their treatment.

What are some things you want patients to know about getting care at Emerson Hospital?

At Emerson, you are treated like family. Every member of our comprehensive breast health team treats our patients as people, not as a diagnosis. We take the time to get to know you and nurture our relationships with you and your families. We are in this together.

What is your best tip for patients?

Ask questions and lean on you care team for support. We are here for you.

The breast cancer navigator position at Emerson Hospital is funded in part through the Hans and Mavis Lopater Foundation.

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