DENVER (KDVR) — June 5 is Cancer Survivors Day. There are nearly 17 million people in the U.S. that are cancer survivors, with more than 225,000 in Colorado alone. Health officials say those numbers continue to increase thanks to early detection and treatment advancements.

Every patient diagnosed with cancer in the Heath One Sarah Cannon system is assigned an oncology nurse navigator that becomes their conduit through their journey from diagnosis to treatment to survivorship.  They coordinate appointments and transportation, explain everything in lay terms, help secure grant funding and become best friends with some of the patients. 

Sarah DeHart just turned 40 when she got her cancer diagnosis. 

“She put her hand on my leg looked me straight in the eyes and just said, ‘Sarah, I’m pretty sure that we’re looking at breast cancer,’” DeHart said. “I just said ‘what’ kind of shaky and she said it’s most common and then I just broke down.”  

A cancer diagnosis can be devastating but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. 

“The hardest part is just the not knowing how bad is it going to be. I didn’t know am I gonna have to do chemo? Am I gonna have to do radiation? Well, I had to do everything, so it’s very scary,” Dehart said. “You feel instantly, you just want to ask everybody questions, you’re gonna die.” 

The mom of three at the time already had her hands full and said Sarah Cannons’ Nurse Navigator program takes a little bit of the weight off your shoulders.   

“(It) was during my whole cancer journey and so I still had to provide for a family of five by myself and that was scary. So Marina was my hero. So my nurse navigator was huge for me because she filled in the gaps where maybe there wasn’t a counselor available or the doctors really busy or whatever,” Dehart said.  

Natalie Ebenhoch, breast cancer nurse navigator from Sarah Cannon at The Medical Center of Aurora said she’s passionate about helping patients.

“I have one patient right now she’s just got a bad result of her surgery. So she calls me every day because she’s like, I just need to hear your voice and that’s okay. That’s what I’m here for,” Ebenhoch said.  

Health One said nurse navigators are often a patient’s direct link to survivorship even though they’re not actually treating the disease. 

“It means a lot because those are the most heroic, courageous people I’ve ever met that they’re going through this,” Ebenhoch said.  

However, Ebenhoch said she prefers the patient to be in the spotlight instead. 

“You did all that hard work, and we’re celebrating you,” Ebenhoch said.  

On Cancer Survivors Day, Dehart is happy to be cancer-free but said it’s bittersweet.  

“You’re so happy at the same time, you just have so much compassion and empathy. you’re so happy at the same time, you just have so much compassion and empathy for those that aren’t as lucky,” Ebenhoch said.  

Why cancer survivorship is possible

  • In the United States, there are screening programs for four types of cancer – breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, and cervical cancer. But 70% of all cancer deaths in this country are related to cancers that can’t be screened for. Blood tests now offer the hope of detecting many cancers all at once and detecting them early.
  • There are more insights into the genetic mutations driving specific types of cancer, which can support treatment decisions, and potentially one day could help physicians keep track of disease status using blood testing.
  • Targeted therapies and immunotherapies are also helping in the fight against cancer.
  • All of that helps create a stronger community of cancer survivors.
  • The most significant measure is prevention. Reduce your risk by quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, eating a healthy diet, protecting yourself from the sun, getting vaccinated, and maintaining regular screenings.