Tales from a Navigator: “Can You Navigate Our Horses Out of the Parking Lot?”

September 2021 Vol 12, No 9



On a daily basis, navigators are asked to provide many varied, and sometimes very novel, services for their patients, according to Penny Daugherty, RN, MS, OCN, ONN-CG, an oncology nurse navigator at the Northside Hospital Cancer Institute in Atlanta.

“As navigators, we’re asked to do some pretty interesting things. Most of us have ‘stores’ of services at the ready, but then, with no warning, a new dimension will come into our lives,” Ms Daugherty said at the AONN+ Midyear Conference. “But we know that if we allow it to happen, implement it and meet that need, we will have something new to treasure in our unique journey as navigators, and a new story to tell.”

At the AONN+ conference, she participated on a panel of fellow navigators who shared some of their most unique, memorable, and challenging experiences in the field of cancer navigation. This is Ms Daugherty’s story.

The Sequence of Events That Changed Penny’s Day

As part of just another day at work, Ms Daugherty was meeting with a newly diagnosed ovarian cancer patient and her husband. Upon talking to them for a few minutes, she learned that they were Canadian trail riders driving home from Florida to Toronto.

On the drive, the wife developed emergent ascites, as many patients with ovarian cancer often do. They came to Ms Daugherty’s hospital via the emergency room, and since their Canadian insurance did not help stateside, they needed financial assistance—ASAP—in order to initiate treatment.

“After initiating the financial assistance, I checked to see if they had other needs to address,” she said. “That’s when I was asked, ‘Can you navigate our horses out of the hospital parking lot?’—which was sort of a surprise to me….”

She quickly learned that the couple’s 2 Morgans (very large horses) were in their horse trailer, sitting in the hot asphalt parking lot in the Georgia summer heat.

Totally “flummoxed,” she called her husband, who reminded her of their friend in Aiken, South Carolina (a 2.5-hour drive from Atlanta), who also had Morgan horses. “Why don’t you ask him if he’ll help out?” he told her.

So Ms Daugherty called him, and he never hesitated; her friend immediately drove to Atlanta to rescue the horses, then took them home to his lovely, shaded pasture.

“My patient and her husband were very, very relieved,” she said.

After her patient was stabilized, she helped her set up a “speedy” appointment with an oncology provider in Toronto. “And I promise you: this is not a simple thing to do when you’re dealing with state-provided healthcare,” she noted. “There’s a lot of good parts to it, but also a lot of delays.”

She then coordinated a flight home for her patient after her surgery, since she couldn’t ride in the truck with her husband due to the high risk of hypercoagulation and dangerous clotting after gynecologic surgery. Meanwhile, her husband drove to Aiken to get the horses back, and then home to Toronto.

Kinship Across the Border

A few months later, one of the Canadian pathologists called Ms Daugherty to request a specific set of slides that was missing. She procured and sent them to him immediately, and he told her that their mutual patient had regaled him of the Atlanta/Aiken “horse rescue” story.

When the Canadian couple came to her hospital, Ms Daugherty remembers that they were “a bit dismissive” about the healthcare here in the States, but now, she was being told how effusively they spoke of our “American ingenuity” in navigating their precious horses to the safety and comfort of a shady pasture, she said.

“That put happy tears in my eyes,” she recalled. “Both as a navigator and, yes, as an American.”

The Navigator’s Amazing Journey

Navigators wake up each morning never knowing what their day will ask of them. But according to Ms Daugherty, that’s part of what makes the job so special.

They are personal patient guides (or financial guides, or spirit guides…), leading each patient through the terrifying “mess that is cancer”: the care, the treatments, the sequelae, and all the side effects.

“Every time we offer a unique assist to someone, it’s an individual adventure in caring, education, and expertise to be treasured,” she said. “It really reinforces our value and our ingenuity, and it’s always a good story to tell.”

As an oncology nurse navigator, Ms Daugherty says she will always treasure her experience with her Canadian patient, her husband, and their beautiful horses, as well as with her Canadian healthcare professionals.

“And I will always give a shout-out to my wonderful friend in Aiken, South Carolina, for that day he rescued 2 very large horses out of a very hot parking lot,” she noted.

Ms Daugherty firmly believes that by sharing their adventures, navigators can enrich each other in what they do. “So if you have an adventure to share,” she added, “please do.”

She can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Last modified: September 17, 2021

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