Saturday, May 15, 2021
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Suellen Cook

Pink Award Baylor All Saints Medical Center/Joan Katz Breast Center

Suellen Cook didn’t come to health advocacy in the usual ways: a degree, a career and health care expertise. What the career elementary school teacher, librarian and vice principal did receive was a cancer diagnosis. Shortly after her retirement from Crowley schools in 2008, Cook underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Her case went smoothly. The only complication was her determination to assist other women who are confronted with a health care nightmare that can overwhelm its victims with fear, dread and indecipherable medical language. Just six months after the conclusion of her treatment, she showed up at Baylor All Saints Medical Center asking to volunteer in the breast program to work with the breast health nurse navigator. She started out offering her services one day a week. Then two days a week. Finally, the administration offered her a full-time job as the first lay navigator, thus creating a new avenue for volunteers. The lay navigators serve to guide patients through the process of tests, surgery, if necessary, and after-treatment and reconstructive surgery, when that is called for. The navigator’s role begins by calling the patient before surgeries or major tests and ends with follow-up calls three months, six months and a year after treatment. It’s the nurse navigator who handles the medical education that goes along with the process. Cook can tell her women patients what they are going to face through the eyes of someone who has already made the journey. “The minute I tell them that I am a breast cancer survivor, you can see their faces light up. They relax,” Cook says. “Then the questions start.” Cook, now 72, spent 38 years in public schools, starting in Fort Worth but most spent in the Crowley school district where she retired from Sycamore Elementary. But it was only two years later that her own diagnosis and treatment gave her a new education about the travails of cancer patients who are thrown into an intimidating system of machines and experts who often speak a very technical language and give confusing results. “Sue will take their laundry home, give them her cell phone number, care for their families while they are in surgery and has even been known to decorate the rooms of those who are alone,” said her nominator and supervisor,” Sheree Bennett, director of the Nurse Navigator program at the Joan Katz Breast Center at Baylor All Saints Medical Center. “She’s the director of hand-holding.” Cook has been nominated and received several employee excellence awards and in March 2011 was honored with the Baylor All Saints President’s Award for Service Excellence.    What drew you to the health care field? My journey was made easier by the valuable education, guidance and support of a nurse navigator. I experienced an excellent navigation program and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. Who is your biggest inspiration? My father taught me that “you do what you have to do.” He lived by example as he raised and educated three children. And Sheree Bennett, who is dedicated to helping others through her profession as a nurse navigator. What is your advice for people getting into the health care field? Compassion. A positive attitude is most important for a patient’s wellness. – Bill Bowen

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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