Here’s something you probably don’t know. There’s a remarkable person, delivering a remarkable service for cancer patients right here in Okaloosa County. Susan Ferdon is the ultimate ‘hand holder’ when it comes to helping patients and their families cope with the myriad of challenges this diagnosis and its treatment creates within their lives.
As the new Community Oncology Patient Navigator at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, Susan is a natural for this role which is part of a University of Alabama-Birmingham-FWBMC CMS grant program focused on serving Medicare-aged cancer patients. She’s part of a team which includes Buddy Duncan, Lay Patient Navigator, who together, help patients ‘navigate’ the health care experience from diagnosis through survivorship.
For her part, Susan is out in the community, helping patients with everything from sitting with them during a doctor’s appointment to ‘translate’ the medical lingo, to offering spiritual support and comfort. She says she’ll do anything she can to help patients and their families – no request is too big or too small. For example, a recently diagnosed 80-year-old patient received a letter from Susan offering this free service (that’s right, it’s free) and decided to take the help. She was scheduled for a second biopsy at the hospital but she was concerned about leaving her husband, who has early dementia, in the waiting room alone. No problem! Susan met the couple in the outpatient surgery lobby and stayed with the elderly man throughout the entire procedure, giving him assurance that his wife was fine. Coincidentally, the couple’s grandson was in the hospital’s ICU at the same time, so Susan was able to check on him and give a report back to the grandparents. On that particular day, Susan provided much needed peace of mind. And when the patient began radiation a few days later, Susan accompanied her as extra ‘eyes and ears’ so she’d be sure to absorb all of the important information given about her treatment.
Susan feels she was truly called to be a Community Navigator. While her family has had deep roots in Okaloosa County for decades, she moved after college. She began her health care career as a pharmaceutical sales rep in 1997. In 2009, she felt a calling to pastoral care ministry and in 2012, earned a Master of Divinity degree from Mercer University in Atlanta. But after 39 years away, she returned to Shalimar to help care for her ailing father. Through a former sorority sister, she became acquainted with Buddy Duncan, who shared with her information about this new position and opened the door for her to interview for the job. It was a perfect fit for her! Her training in health care gave her the knowledge and ability to communicate with patients in laymen’s terms, and her training in pastoral care offered the emotional and spiritual support so needed by cancer patients and their families. Susan’s life path led her back home to do the work she feels she truly was called to do.
A cancer diagnosis is overwhelming and having people like the FWBMC navigators helping both in and outside of the hospital is a true blessing. Their biggest challenge: getting the word out to the community and getting patients or family members to pick up the phone and ask for help. Maybe it sounds too good to be true. Free? Comprehensive? Delivered locally by knowledgeable, compassionate people? If you know someone who would benefit from Susan’s help, give her a call. Her office phone number is 850-315-4208. Or you can send her a quick email at Susan.Ferdon@hcahealthcare.com. She’s just waiting for you to ask for her helping hand.