Collaborative team helps battle brain tumor

Nurse navigator brings comfort and courage to a difficult journey

Steve ParmanSteve Parman knew something was wrong in July 2016. It had become tougher for him to complete routine tasks at the western Kansas granite installation business he owned and operated for decades. When he stumbled and nearly fell while carrying a large piece of equipment one day, he thought he may have a pinched nerve. But his wife, Ann Davis, observed something "off" in his manner of walking and feared he had a more serious problem.

The couple visited Steve's primary care physician, and a brain scan revealed a significant mass. Steve shared the image with his sister, a radiologist, who urged him to seek specialty care without delay.

A critical first step

Steve and Ann now faced one of the biggest decisions of their lives. As residents of Johnson, Kansas, the couple would have to travel several hundred miles to obtain the advanced care that Steve needed. Residing halfway between Denver and Kansas City, they quickly researched academic medical centers in both cities. Attracted to the benefits of leading research and innovation, they chose The University of Kansas Hospital.

With Ann behind the wheel, the couple set out to drive more than 360 miles to begin Steve's treatment. Along the way, they made contact with Emily Connor.

As a nurse navigator with The University of Kansas Cancer Center and key team member of the hospital's neurosurgery program, Connor is committed to providing every patient with a path to efficient, individualized, compassionate care.

"I had difficulty reaching the patient at first," Connor recalled. "I soon realized it was because he was en route and driving through rural Kansas."

The groundwork for efficient care

As the couple continued to drive, Connor communicated with the physicians who would evaluate Steve's condition and determine a care plan. With MRI images still on the way, the doctors did not know whether Steve's brain mass was cancerous or benign, but they recognized it was causing the patient to decline. They advised that Steve arrive at their emergency department as quickly as possible.

"From the moment Emily contacted us at the beginning of our 8-hour drive, she provided us with the critical medical and logistical information we needed to make the trip," Ann said.

Connor's efforts continued once the couple arrived at The University of Kansas Hospital.

"Steve and Ann didn't have the luxury of awaiting traditional treatment from a hotel room," Connor said. "We made sure that we took charge not only of Steve's care, but of Ann's comfort. We gave her a bed and warm blanket so she could recuperate following the stressful and emotional drive. It was my job to make sure that her only job was to drive here safely. She certainly did her part. And by navigating behind the scenes as they drove, I helped our team fast-track Steve's care."

Strong team, strong fight

Additional tests revealed that Steve had a glioblastoma, an aggressive and serious brain cancer. He had arrived at The University of Kansas Hospital in the wee hours of Saturday morning and was in the operating room less than 24 hours later to have the tumor surgically removed.

"This was a wonderful example of neuro-oncology and neurosurgery collaborating closely," Connor said. "I am able to review a patient's records and images with the physicians in real time, preparing before the patient ever arrives. It's a very tight-knit relationship. Collaboration is what our program is known for."

Neuro-oncologist Michael Salacz, MD, agrees. "With this neuro-navigation position, we are able to provide complete care from the moment the patient contacts us. It also allows us to consider clinical trials and other needs the patient and family may have, including collaborating with other disciplines."

"Our patients have complex needs and require multiple tests and multiple doctors," said neurosurgeon Roukoz Chamoun, MD, who performed Steve's surgery. "Emily's work helps us provide better service to our patients. Their needs are better organized, and our support is more efficient."

With multiple specialists bringing individual strengths to a cohesive approach to cancer care, Steve was positioned as well as possible to attack his condition. Following the removal of the tumor, he began radiation and chemotherapy. He is living with a friend while making daily visits to The University of Kansas Cancer Center – Lee's Summit.

"Steve began this journey while still very functional, so that is a reason to be optimistic in the face of a serious diagnosis," Connor said. "We want to help him fight the best fight he possibly can, and we know we can give him the best multidisciplinary care and the best process."

While Steve has a difficult and uncertain process still ahead of him, both he and his wife appreciate the experience they've had at The University of Kansas Hospital. While anxious, exhausted and far from home, the couple has taken comfort and courage from the multidisciplinary team that brought tremendous skill, compassion and coordination to Steve's care journey.

"Emily's guidance was invaluable and gave us a lifeline in what would otherwise have been a harrowing experience," Steve said.

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