Why We Come to Work: For These Four Women, It’s Personal

Certified oncology nurse navigators Carolyn Allsen, Jessica Burgess, Sylvia Brown and Deidra Teoh.

Did you know oncology nurse navigators are critical in helping cancer patients through their most difficult times? Not only do they aid with the transition from diagnosis to treatment, but navigators also provide emotional and educational support while helping coordinate care.

Memorial Hermann Health System has a team of oncology nurse navigators who service all eight Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers. Of those navigators, four are the first nurses in Houston –and among the first in the nation – to become certified by the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators (AONN).

The AONN is the largest national specialty organization dedicated to improving patient care and quality of life by defining, enhancing and promoting the role of oncology nurse and patient navigators.  It was the first year for the certification program, which tested the nurses’ abilities in areas like community outreach, coordination care, patient advocacy and survivorship.

Meet the oncology nurse navigators who recently received this specialty certification and learn what motivates them to do more:

Sylvia Brown, MSN, RN, OCN, CNL, ONN-CG

As a cancer survivor, I know first-hand what it feels like to receive a cancer diagnosis and the uncertainties a diagnosis can bring. I was a caregiver to my mom who was diagnosed with lung cancer and lost her battle nine months later. Given my own personal experience, I feel I have a better understanding of what oncology patients are going through from the view of the patient, caregiver, and healthcare worker. I began my career as an oncology nurse in 2007, and six years later I became an oncology nurse navigator at Memorial Hermann. I love being a navigator, in that we are able to connect with the patients on a personal level, not only providing financial and educational information, but also emotional and psychological support which is essential when caring for patients with cancer. Gaining patient trust is critical to what navigators do every day. I want my patients to feel comforted knowing there is someone with expertise in oncology overseeing their journey during their most vulnerable moments, striving to provide the very best, compassionate care. When I’m not working, I’m all about my family. I also have an interest in equestrianism – both English and Western riding.

Jessica Burgess, BSN, RN, OCN, ONN-CG

Oncology nursing was a true calling which I answered in 2008. I swore I would never be an oncology nurse but it fell into my lap unexpectedly after my team and I took care of Stem Cell Transplant and therapy oncology patients on an inpatient unit while the hospital was on lockdown during Hurricane Ike. It was then that I realized exactly where I needed to be. In 2013, I became an oncology nurse navigator/lung nurse navigator at Memorial Hermann to truly focus on the patients’ full experience as they embrace the road ahead – to lend a steady hand, a simple smile or words of encouragement. It is truly an honor to hold the hands of those going through the cancer journey and I am grateful to my patients for sharing their struggles, successes, good days and bad days with me. When I became certified as an oncology nurse navigator, I made an unspoken promise to my patients to stay current with the best practices and to always provide the highest level of support and care. I’m a fitness and healthy-living enthusiast, inside and outside of the hospital walls. I love to run, dance, crochet and craft, and of course spend time with my two daughters, husband and dogs.

Deidra Teoh, MSN, RN, OCN, ONN-CG

Losing many of my own family members to cancer was a driving motivation for me to become an oncology nurse. I know from personal experience that there is nothing more special or rewarding than getting to be a helpful resource in someone’s time of need – working hard to make someone’s worst day just a little bit better. Since becoming a Memorial Hermann oncology nurse navigator in 2011, I have learned so much about life from my patients. They are very special people, and it’s because of them that I will always be compelled to further enhance my knowledge and experience. This certification provides me with a tangible way to show my commitment to being an oncology nurse navigator, not only to my care team, but also to my patients, their families and the community.

Carolyn Allsen, BSN, RN, OCN, ONN-CG

I have been working with oncology patients for over 20 years. A patient once told me, “If I had my time to do it over again, I would do things much differently. I would take care of me first so I, in turn, could take care of my family.” I immediately was inspired to take a leap of faith. Soon after, I moved from Canada to the U.S. to pursue a more in-depth role in oncology nursing and, in 2013, I became an oncology nurse navigator at Memorial Hermann. Even as they are preparing for the biggest fight of their lives, my patients have a contagious, positive energy about them. That is what motivates me to keep going each day. My greatest passion is educating patients about being healthy and taking care of their bodies. And going forward, I will continue to challenge myself to be the best resource I can be for my patients, and to provide them with a sense of security knowing they have a field expert as a supplement to their oncology clinical team.

 Learn more about Memorial Hermann’s oncology nurse navigators, or if you or a loved one has had an amazing experience with one of our oncology nurse navigators, please show them some love in our comment section below!

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Tashika Varma