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5 Ways Your Nurse Can Help During HER2-Positive Breast Cancer Treatment

Posted on September 30, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Todd Gersten, M.D.
Article written by
Joan Grossman

  • Nurses are an important part of your health care team as you undergo treatment for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-positive breast cancer.
  • Nurse navigators are trained to help you make informed decisions about your care and navigate the health care system.
  • Nurses play a key role in helping you manage side effects, stick to treatment, and transition into survivorship.

If you are diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer, your nursing team can provide considerable help and support during treatment. Nurses are highly trained health care professionals who can provide not only clinical services but also logistical and emotional support. Undergoing treatment can raise many complex questions, and nurses can be a valuable resource to help you navigate your cancer care through diagnosis, treatment, and into survivorship.

Treatment for HER2-positive breast cancer vary depending on the stage of the disease. They may include chemotherapy, monoclonal antibody targeted therapy, surgery, hormone therapy, and longer-term maintenance therapy. Whether you have early-stage disease or metastatic breast cancer (cancer that has spread to a different part of the body), nurses can help you understand your treatment options and make your experience with HER2-positive breast cancer easier.

MyBCTeam members often discuss how nurses have helped make their HER2-positive breast cancer care more manageable. “I feel so fortunate to have had the best nurses for all of my care, from biopsy, to chemo, and through surgery!” a member wrote. Another member said, “Having a team you trust and love is the best!”

It’s important to understand how nurses can help, as you begin treatment for HER2-positive breast cancer. Establishing a good rapport with your nurses and knowing all the ways they can support you every step of the way can help you keep moving forward and staying healthy. Here are some of the ways nurses can play a vital role in your breast cancer care.

1. Coordinating Your Treatment

A nurse navigator is a registered nurse who helps people manage the health care system. Oncology nurse navigators are specifically trained to work with people with different types of cancer such as HER2-positive breast cancer.

Nurse navigators are trained to provide specialized knowledge to help you make informed decisions about your care, help you stick with treatment plans, and improve your quality of life. Nurse navigators can play a crucial role in helping people gain access to care in a timely manner and can help coordinate appointments and facilitate communication with your health care team.

One MyBCTeam member advised a fellow member to have a nurse navigator attend a meeting she was having with her medical oncologist. “They help cancer patients understand (navigate) all the information, answer questions, etc.,” she wrote. “And if she hears everything with you, she may be better able to answer your questions and help you formulate your follow-up questions.”

Another member explained how a nurse navigator helped them schedule a procedure: “The nurse navigator can definitely be a great resource. When I felt like my surgery was taking too long to schedule, I called her and had a date within an hour.”

Studies show that nurse navigators help improve people’s experiences with health care and reduce rates of hospital readmission. If you need help accessing a nurse navigator, talk to your health care provider.

2. Administering Treatments and Providing Comfort

Oncology nurses often administer chemotherapy and other drugs and help guide people with HER2-positive breast cancer through treatment regimens and follow-up care. Nurses can provide education on what to expect with treatment and possible reactions you may experience.

Oncology nurses can also provide important counseling on protocols while you’re undergoing treatment. These may include guidelines for proper hydration, diet, hygiene, sex, and managing daily life in a safe and healthy way. Nurses are also available to provide comfort and reassurance so that your treatment goes as smoothly and effectively as possible.

“Once you have that first chemo done, you will know what to expect procedure-wise, and how your body will react to it. It sounds crazy, but after the first couple, I didn’t mind it so much. The nurses were awesome,” a MyBCTeam member wrote.

Another member said, “Got my port removed today! Yippee! The nurses and doctors at the surgery center were fantastic! So sweet! My pre-op nurse is a survivor too. :).”

3. Managing Side Effects

Nurses who work with people who have HER2-positive breast cancer are highly knowledgeable about side effects from chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy with drugs like trastuzumab (Herceptin) and pertuzumab (Perjeta). Oncology nurses can help you recognize and manage adverse reactions. You can discuss any reactions or side effects you have from treatment with your nurses.

In many cases, people with HER2-positive breast cancer spend more time with their nurses than their doctors. Talking openly to your nurse about side effects may be more efficient than waiting to see your doctor. Nurses often have a key role in managing breast cancer treatment side effects, particularly during maintenance treatment.

Your nurses have your best interest in mind and in helping you manage side effects, they can also help you maintain your treatment plan so that you achieve the best outcome possible.

4. Giving Emotional Support

Emotional distress, depression, and anxiety are common for those living with cancer. Among people with cancer, breast cancer in particular is associated with the highest rate of psychological distress. Reaching out for emotional support is an important aspect of your cancer care, and your nurses can help.

One MyBCTeam member expressed their appreciation for the help they’ve gotten from nurses. “I wish I had gone to nursing school. I have had some amazing nurses that have so positively impacted my life,” they wrote.

Oncology nurses and the people they care for often form strong bonds in the process of going through the emotional experience of cancer treatment. You can talk openly with your nurse about your emotional ups and downs. Not all nurses have the time or the training to help with emotional distress, but they understand what you’re going through and can help you find resources for psychological care if you need it.

According to one study, oncology nurses are concerned about emotional distress among people they care for and would like them to communicate if they need emotional or psychological support. When people undergoing cancer treatment hide their emotional distress, it is difficult for nurses to provide help.

5. Helping You Move Into Survivorship

Nurses can help with the transition into survivorship as people with HER2-positive breast cancer complete their treatment. In fact, oncology nurses have played a large role in developing models for survivorship care. Nurses can work with you to determine your survivorship needs and provide information to help you understand follow-up monitoring and screening, maintenance treatment (if needed), and survivorship resources and services.

Nurses can help you navigate survivorship guidelines for people with HER2-positive breast cancer to help protect your health and well-being. Along with your clinical needs, nurses can help survivors of HER2-positive breast cancer with resources for developing and maintaining self-care through a healthy lifestyle, along with addressing emotional needs over the long term.

Nurse navigators can be an important resource for survivorship planning and can help with coordination across your multidisciplinary health care providers, support for family and caregivers, and counseling for daily life as a breast cancer survivor.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 58,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.

How has your nursing team supported you on your breast cancer journey? For example, have you worked with a nurse navigator to schedule treatments? Share your experiences in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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