Judy's story

Cancer Care Navigator

Patients credit cancer care navigators as being a huge help through their cancer journey. Judy Koutlas, the coordinator of the Cancer Care Navigator program at Vidant Health, says her team gets just as much from the patients as the patients get from them.

Judy Koutlas

Every day counts.

People ask Judy Koutlas why in the world she would choose to work with cancer patients. It must be a downer, right? Oh no. It’s exactly the opposite.

“To me, it’s one of the most rewarding things ever,” she said. “The people I care for give me a new outlook on life. Every day counts to them. Every moment matters.”

Judy’s work with cancer patients began when she was a young nurse, right out of school. She was working on a general medicine unit and one of the populations that the team took care of was cancer patients.

“They were so sick,” she recalls, “and a lot of them were young. It was challenging to take care of them but they became part of my life and I became part of their family.” Her newest role as a cancer care navigator takes her love of helping cancer patients and pairs it with her experience and expertise in the field.

A navigator, Judy explains, is a person who can help cancer patients and their families get access to the services they need. Navigators eliminate barriers like transportation issues or trouble paying for medications.

Navigators are patient advocates who help through the entire journey. They have to be upbeat and compassionate.

“I am there for them,” she said. “It’s so scary to have cancer. Sometimes what patients remember isn’t my expertise. They remember that I talked to them about the other things going on in their lives.

“They are much more than their disease. These people have jobs, families, a house, kids, grandkids. And cancer affects all that. It affects everything.” Cancer patients are able to put life in a new perspective, Judy said.

“People who have cancer are people of faith, people of courage. They are so brave.”

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Judy Koutlas
Cancer Care Navigator