BayCare Nurse Navigator Guides Patients Through Breast Cancer Journey

October 18, 2021


Even as a little girl, Agnes Jastrzebski, a breast nurse navigator at Morton Plant Hospital, knew what she wanted to do when she grew up. “I knew I always wanted to be a nurse and help people,” said Jastrzebski (YA-strehm-ski), who has been a nurse navigator since 2013. “My job lets me help people when they are most afraid. I try to calm their fears and help them on their health care journey.”

Jastrzebski’s personal journey began in Poland, where her father was a professor and her mother was a building inspector. “My parents wanted to offer better opportunities for their children,” Jastrzebski said. Her father and pregnant mother decided to gather up their three daughters and take a two-week boat trip to go to the United States. The family settled in New Jersey. 

For Jastrzebski, the better opportunity was to become a nurse. After becoming a licensed practical nurse, she received her registered nursing degree. She began her nursing career working in a nursing home and a hospital in New Jersey, but put her career on pause to raise her two children. 

But the pull of health care and helping others was too great.

After a move to Florida, Jastrzebski got back into health care, working to gather data for Total Cancer Care Research, a joint project between BayCare and Moffitt Cancer Center. However, collecting patient data didn’t fill her need to help others. “I asked to shadow the nurse navigator at Morton Plant to see what she did,” she said. “When the job was open, I applied and got it. I knew from the start that it was the right fit for me.” 

As a breast nurse navigator at Morton Plant, Jastrzebski helps hundreds of patients every year after they receive a breast cancer diagnosis. She connects with patients before their first doctor’s appointment to discuss their treatment plan and helps walk them through the difficult journey. 

“I just want them to feel comfortable as they are going into the consultation with the doctors,” she said. “In the first meeting, they have many questions and feel overwhelmed and scared. I’m there to tell them what they can expect.”

Jastrzebski feels it’s important to make a quick connection with the patients. “This can be a very challenging job because we have to move quickly to help the patient,” she said. “But it’s my duty to make it easier for them as they go from diagnosis to treatment and, in some cases, reconstruction, rehabilitation and support. I help them with their questions before and after they see the doctor.”

Patients who need additional support are directed to Cancer Patient Support Services (CaPSS) which helps cancer patients and their families cope more effectively with the emotional and physical changes resulting from a cancer diagnosis. The program offers many services to patients and their families at no charge.

Although Jastrzebski and her family have not been impacted by breast cancer, her patients become like family. The first two patients she worked with when she became a nurse navigator still keep in touch. “One day, I was walking up to my office, and I saw one of them outside and she was sobbing. I thought maybe she had a recurrence,” she said. “But it was nothing like that. Instead, she was relieved because her scan was clear. We both started crying.”

While working with another patient, Jastrzebski discovered that they attend the same church. They are now Bible study partners. “I’m proud to be there for my patients as they go through their breast cancer journey. Being able to help them has made a huge impact on my life and I hope I’ve been able to make an impact on theirs as well.”

Jastrzebski feels her work helps those patients who may feel overwhelmed with planning for imaging, biopsy, surgery and treatment. “It has been a learning experience as I work with different patients,” she said. “Some patients need extra guidance while others can be very independent. But I’m there for them when they need me. I tell them that I’ll always be their nurse navigator.” 

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