A Personal Guide

Published on: 
CURE, Winter Supplement 2009, Volume 8, Issue 0

A Georgia breast cancer survivor shares her experience as a patient navigator, and the importance of this approach.

Tillia Raiford-Fox, a patient navigator at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital, comes from the ranks of the medically underserved. In November 2005, the Smyrna, Georgia, woman found a lump in her breast but put off getting a mammogram for months."I was in a predicament a lot of our people are in,” says Raiford-Fox, 63, an African-American. “I didn’t have ­insurance.”

Supported by a patient navigator, she had chemotherapy and surgery at Grady for a stage 2 tumor. “My navigator was there,” she says. “They’re there to motivate you, to uplift you, to steer you in the right direction.” When she finished treatment in mid-2007, she was eager to pay the favor forward.

In 2008, she trained as a navigator herself, to guide others through the ins and outs of breast cancer. Now, as part of the Avon Foundation Community Education and Outreach Initiative, Raiford-Fox assists newly diagnosed patients at Grady by telephoning them, attending appointments with them, and linking them to needed resources.

She readily ticks off some benefits of navigators for patients: a chance to ask lots of questions of someone who isn’t as rushed as physicians often are; help understanding test results; and connection to aid and support.

The patient navigator ­approach was launched in 1990 at the Harlem Hospital Center in New York City to help overcome barriers that underserved patients face and to promote timely screening and treatment. Many hospitals and advocacy groups have developed their own programs. In addition, the American Cancer Society ( has an online navigator program; also, cancer information specialists can be reached at 800-227-2345.

To help uninsured or underinsured patients with financial and other burdens of cancer, Raiford-Fox often suggests resources including CancerCare (, 800-813-?­?

4673); a local Salvation Army; HealthWell Foundation (,? 800-675-8416); Patient Advocate Foundation (www.­, 800-532-5274); and Patient Access Network Foundation (www.­, 866-316-7263).

For each of her cases, Raiford-Fox aims to build and sustain trust and harmony. “Every cancer is different for every ­patient.”