Patience Navigating Patients

Hello! I am Shannon Voelkel, one of the new additions to the Duke Cancer Institute’s Teen and Young Adult Oncology Program. I started my position as patient navigator back in January. I hope I am able to illustrate my passion for not only this role, but the patient population that I have the privilege to work with every day.

I like to introduce myself to patients as a glorified tour guide who follows them through their entire cancer journey making sure that the experience is tailored to their personal needs, whether it is emotional, social, or medical I am here to help. I say journey because a cancer diagnosis is continually life-altering no matter how much time passes. I am along for the ride—checking-in, educating, and providing a safe space to address unique needs that typically arise not only with teens and young adults, but their loved ones, too.

Since 2016, I have been involved with the young adult patient population at Duke with a variety of chronic illnesses. No matter the diagnosis or stage in their healthcare journey, there is a bit of magic that happens when they are brought into a community that simply “gets it.” Having the ability to normalize even one side effect or educate a patient about a future change that may come about because their diagnosis is indescribable.

What I have enjoyed from the role so far?

I wish I could nail down one part that I have enjoyed the most, but in all honesty, I have enjoyed every single aspect. Continually working with patients along their journey and directly experiencing the impact is exciting and motivating. Receiving funding from Teen Cancer America has allowed the Teen and Young Adult Oncology Program at Duke to thrive even amidst a global pandemic! I have continually been able to safely support and connect patients to services even while in a remote position. Our virtual meetups have been a highlight for me. Opening up a space for young adults to connect during a time of isolation has been inspiring. Experiencing a group of strangers come together and watching them develop an immediate bond that fosters a sense of normalcy confirms I am exactly where I need to be.

What’s Next?

This is the most exciting part! As our program continues to grow, I get to see the ripple effect. We are expanding the TYAO community, educating healthcare providers, learning, re-evaluating, and ultimately continuing to change the standard of care for the teen and young adult oncology population at Duke—working toward our goal to bridge the gap.