NORTH PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A cancer diagnosis can be devastating. Many patients struggle to keep up with their jobs and families during treatment and the physical, emotional, and financial effects can last a long time.
But patient navigators can help people in Beating the Odds Against Breast Cancer.
Last year, 38-year-old Leetonia Walker of North Philadelphia was a healthcare aide, starting nurse's training, when she found a lump in her breast. Suddenly, life changed.
"Got the biopsy, came back positive that I was breast cancer triple negative, stage four," Leetonia said.
Chemotherapy began immediately to shrink the tumors for surgery.
"It had already spread to my right lymph nodes and right arm," she said.
A year later, she's still getting radiation.
Leetonia struggles to walk or use stairs, because of nerve damage to her feet caused by chemotherapy, so she can't work.
Now, this mother of 3 is not only fighting for her life, but to keep her family financially afloat.
That's where Melissa Hutchinson, a patient navigator with the American Cancer Society, comes in, helping identify and eliminate barriers to Leetonia's care.
"Things like transportation, financial, but sometimes they can be emotional barriers," Melissa said. "A lot of times these resources are confusing, or they're kind of spread out all over."
Melissa found grants to pay some of Leetonia's utility bills. And now, she's helping her get disability certification from Social Security, so she'll have some steady income.
"They'll actually send an advocate with you to that hearing," she reassured Leetonia about an upcoming hearing before a Social Security appeals board.
"Melissa - I think she's a guardian angel. She really helped me in so many ways," said Leetonia.
It's enabled her to worry less, and spend more time with her younger children.
"My good days, I try to take my kids out, so like the playground, or for a picnic," she says.
And she can keep her high-school-aged son focused on his future.
"Don't worry about me. God got me. You just keep going, make Mommy proud," she says to encourage him.
There are 60 American Cancer Society patient navigators nationwide, including several in the Philadelphia region.
To connect, call the ACS at 1-800-227-2345, or go to Find a Patient Navigator.
And remember, the Making Strides Walk on Sunday, Oct. 20th helps support the Patient Navigators and other vital programs for cancer patients.
It's all at Jack Curtis Stadium in Cooper River Park in Pennsauken, N.J.
Day-of check-in is at 8:30am, and the walk begins at 10am.
American Cancer Society Patient Navigators can help with cancer care