Navigating the Challenges of HNC with Generous Support

a woman helping someone

S+S, Fall 2023

The Department of Otolaryngology is excited to welcome two new patient navigators to the head and neck surgical oncology team, thanks to a significant grant the Eye & Ear Foundation received from the Jack Buncher Foundation.

Patients who receive a diagnosis of cancer face a tremendous amount of uncertainty and distress. They must make decisions that can affect their chances of survival, often within hours or days of receiving such life-altering news. Navigating a complex and fragmented healthcare system is one of the largest challenges new cancer patients face, along with the lack of helpful information about their disease and care plan and lack of attention to their social and emotional needs. It has been widely documented that patients who begin treatment within 45 days of diagnosis have a higher rate of survival than those who wait longer to begin treatment.

In addition to these challenges, many patients are faced with major barriers to receiving care, such as low health literacy and a lack of necessary assets like transportation, health insurance, food security, childcare, permanent and affordable housing, and more.

The team of head and neck cancer surgeons and physicians at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC, led by the Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology, Dr. José P. Zevallos, are unified in their goal to do more for these vulnerable patients so they have a successful course of treatment and a happy and healthy life after cancer.

One way to reduce the amount of time that patients wait to begin their chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment is to increase care coordination, specifically through the involvement of a patient navigator who follows each case of head and neck cancer from diagnosis through treatment and into survivorship.

Adonis Zaghab began on August 28, and Susanna Gjurich started September 10. “Both Adonis and Sue bring years of healthcare coordination and patient advocacy experience to this role,” said Dr. José P. Zevallos, MD, MPH, FACS, Professor, Department of Otolaryngology, and the Eugene N. Myers, MD, Professor and Chairman of Otolaryngology.

Prior to this position, Adonis served as the international referral liaison at UPMC Children’s Hospital followed by a supervisory role at UPMC Corporate Services. Sue was a patient navigator and specialty care coordinator for the Neuro-oncology service at Hillman Cancer Center.

“They will work together to ensure that our complex head and neck cancer patients receive the most effective and timely treatment possible,” Dr. Zevallos said. “I am excited to welcome them to the Department of Otolaryngology family!”