Lettie Allen: Helping hands meant I could get the care I needed
The day Lettie Allen was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, her life changed. She was a mom of three kids—the youngest just two years old, she was working a more-than-fulltime job, and she'd just bought a new car.
Now, her life was full of appointments: driving from her home in Tyrone to Mount Nittany Health for chemotherapy, radiation, injections, and surgery.
The day Lettie received her diagnosis was also the day she was introduced to Angelique Cygan, a Mount Nittany Health oncology breast navigator. As a navigator, Angelique serves as an advocate, educator, consultant, and liaison, helping patients at every step in their journey after a breast cancer diagnosis.
Lettie represents the one in eight U.S. women who will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. It's estimated that 30 percent of newly diagnosed cancers in women this year will be breast cancer — making Angelique's work more important than ever.
Thanks to a groundbreaking gift from the Pink Zone, Mount Nittany Health expanded its oncology navigation program to include a dedicated oncology breast navigator. Angelique's position continues to benefit from philanthropic support to help even more patients facing a breast cancer diagnosis.
"Angelique has been there with me ever since day one," Lettie says. "I was working 80-some hours a week, and I had to go down to working 20 hours a week. I couldn't quit my job. I had car payments of $500 a month, I had three kids to take care of. There was a time when I had to go to Mount Nittany Health in State College every other day, and she helped me with gas cards."
As a breast health navigator, Angelique works to remove barriers to patient care and make sure patients receive timely access, treatment, and follow-up. "Patients battling breast cancer need a strong support system, especially on the clinical front because it's usually all new territory for them," she says.
The navigator program also helped Lettie with car payments, bills, and holiday expenses through dedicated patient support funds such as the Team Ream Fund at Mount Nittany Health Foundation. Lettie, and cancer patients like her, can be forced to choose between treatment or the practical necessities of food, shelter, and transportation for herself and her children. Thanks to Angelique and the breast health navigation program, Lettie didn't have to choose.
"Team Ream is all too familiar with the challenges cancer patients and their families face. Our focus is on making life a little easier for cancer patients by easing the everyday stress of fighting cancer. We are proud to partner with Mount Nittany Health Foundation to help Lettie and other cancer survivors like her," shares Samantha Ream Haas.
"Lettie is stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, and that means, short of a miracle, there is no cure," Angelique continues. "One of the reasons Lettie is doing so well is the donor support and the navigation resource that keeps her connected. Stage 4 is very serious, and sometimes a couple of missed appointments is the difference between stable disease and progression of the cancer. Although it was never easy for Lettie to ask for help, she knew it was a matter of life or death and there was help available to her. Although Lettie remains busy fighting her own disease, you can often find her looking for ways to help others. She has told me she wants to pass on the love others have shown to her."
Angelique has met with other stage 4 patients who didn't have the benefit of such dedicated support. "Sadly, they don't have a story like Lettie's," she says. Their medical note might read 'lost to follow-up' or 'patient was a no-show.' In reality, maybe they didn't have a car or couldn't afford gas. Some can't miss work and they are too overwhelmed to coordinate a new schedule. Others have no insurance. Through donor support and navigation, barriers such as these can be removed."
Mount Nittany Health Foundation directs donor funds to programs that support patient care, such as oncology navigation. Visit foundation.mountnittany.org or call 814.234.6777 to learn more about the Foundation's role in advancing cancer care in our communities.
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