Nurse navigator in face mask sits down to meet with a cancer patient in an exam room.

A farmer “feels happy” with the help of a cancer navigator

At 72, Jim Hall thought he’d retire now, take care of his garden or fix old tractors for fun. But this is not usually the case for farmers. Hall rented his first plot of land when he was a junior in high school and is still farming some 55 years later near Jackson, Minnesota.

He knows that life rarely goes as planned. That became apparent last year when a series of health issues led to a frightening diagnosis: glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer that often forms in the frontal or temporal lobes.

Hall, his kids, and his other person noticed as he started making small mistakes.

“I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what,” Hall said. “I couldn’t drive my car like I usually do. I usually make breakfast myself in the morning, and leave the stove on. Little things like that.”

But it wasn’t the errors that first sent him to the doctor; It was an E. coli infection that caused him digestive distress. After Hall was clarified at a VA clinic in Spirit Lake, Iowa, his daughter insisted something was wrong. She felt that Hall had symptoms similar to those of his father, who had had small strokes. On November 17, 2021, Hall had a CT scan at the clinic that revealed a brain tumor.

Find cancer care: Navigator nurses are part of your team at Sanford Health

He was sent to Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for surgery. They worked on November 29, and Hall was back home in Minnesota by December 2, getting around normally and recovering well.

Navigating the Journey of Cancer

Hall met his nurse navigator, Kayla Arnstorff, in Worthington in mid-December.

As a navigator for an oncology nurse at Sanford Health, Ahrenstorff’s job is to facilitate excellent care for cancer patients. She coordinates and attends appointments, translates confusing medical language into easily digestible information, provides psycho-emotional support to patients and families and connects them to outside resources.

“My goal is to make sure the patient’s journey with cancer is as smooth as possible,” Arnstorf said. “I oversee their care from diagnosis to treatment, serving as their primary point of contact.”

Most importantly, Ahrenstorff represents the best interests of her patients in constant communication with their care team. Oncology nurses like Ahrenstorff are an essential part of the Sanford Health team’s approach to cancer care.

As Worthington’s only nurse navigator, Ahrenstorff is of particular interest.

“I sometimes feel like I’m on an island, but fortunately I know a lot of nurses, navigators, and practitioners in Sioux Falls,” she said. “We have a great team approach between Sioux Falls and Worthington where everyone works together for the patients.”

However, some of the responsibilities fall squarely on Ahrenstorff at Worthington.

“Because we are a smaller facility, I do all the chemotherapy education,” she said. “So when a patient starts treatment, I spend an hour or two of my day educating them personally.”

On his first appointment with Ahrenstorff, he learned that he would need radiation and chemotherapy to prevent cancer.

He received 30 rounds of radiation and took chemotherapy pills for 40 days to start treatment, followed by his current routine of five days of chemotherapy, four weeks rest and five days again. He will stick to this schedule for six months.

Arnstorf said Hall has responded well to treatment. Hall agrees.

“In terms of the surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, things went off nicely. I don’t have any complaints about that,” he said.

Mutual appreciation

Hall gained a great deal of respect for the nurses during his journey with cancer, noting their resilience and assistance in particular.

“I really appreciate the nurses. They are not afraid to do anything with you,” he said. “With some things in the hospital, you lose all your dignity. But you learn to respect the nurses who take care of you.”

The feeling is mutual, Arnstorf said.

“Patients are the most rewarding part of this job,” she said. “And Jim is just a great guy to be around.”

The hall is feeling good now. Back to work in time for spring planting.

“I drive, work, and do things I would love to do again. Before I went to Sanford, the doctors in Virginia thought I might not get out of the hospital. Well, I’m out and I’m fine.”

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Posted in Cancer, Cancer Treatments, Jackson, Nursing and Nursing Support, Worthington

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