Spotlight on breast cancer oncology nurse navigator Karen Iacino

Long-time nurse and breast cancer survivor uses her knowledge and experience to help current breast cancer patients through their treatment and survivorship

Karen Iacino
Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion

Nursing for 41 years with almost 40 years at Candler Hospital

SJ/C: Why did you decide to become a nurse?

Karen: I am from a small town, and it was just my father and I, and I didn’t want to go off to school and leave him, so I went to school in town and became a journalist for a while. But, I always wanted to be a nurse. So, when a diploma program in nursing became available I did that, and then later got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I have always wanted to take care of people. As a little child, at first, it was taking care of animals, and then it grew into taking care of people and making them happy.

SJ/C: What made you choose St. Joseph’s/Candler?

Karen: I was in Pennsylvania, and at the time, there were a lot of nurses being laid off, and I got temporarily laid off of my very first job. I took that opportunity and said, I should move somewhere warm. I happened to find Candler Hospital and came down to interview. I also interviewed at a hospital in Virginia, but Candler felt more welcoming. I was offered a position in either urology or stroke rehab, and I took stroke rehab because I knew I’d enjoy working with the elderly patients. I’ve since done a lot of different things here.

SJ/C: What are some of your day to day responsibilities in your current role as oncology nurse navigator in breast cancer survivorship?

Karen: First of all, we have a big spreadsheet of all of our breast cancer patients and where they are in treatment. I work closely with the other two breast cancer navigators to make sure the patients get to all their appointments and do what they are supposed to do. A lot of times we’ll identify a problem, such as, they didn’t have a ride, and we can coordinate that for them. We also coordinate things, for example, if they have surgery and develop lymphedema, we can coordinate outpatient physical therapy or get them the socks they need for their arms to help with lymphedema. I also work a lot with the Komen Foundation and try to get them grants to help with their financial needs.

Additionally, within six months to sometimes up to 18 months, I meet with them at one of their existing appointments and explain their survivorship care plan. That includes a book I give them that has everything they might be looking for. They have my card; they have all their caregivers’ numbers in that book. They have the treatment they had done and also the diagnostics they had done. This is not any type of requirement, but we found it was the right thing to do because, for instance, in Hurricane Katrina, people lost all their medical records. They didn’t have what treatments they had in the past. They couldn’t share with a new provider. We try to do that with this book, with this care plan. It’s a nice service, and they seem very appreciative of that information.

SJ/C: As you mentioned, you’ve done a lot of different things in nursing at St. Joseph’s/Candler. Why did you decide to take on this role as an oncology nurse navigator?

Karen: Being a breast cancer survivor myself, I always thought that I would like to work with survivors if there was an opportunity. So, when someone approached me about this job, I was really interested. I did the interview process and got the role. There are a lot of breast cancer patients who have it a lot worse than I did. I had a very – if you can call it light – case of breast cancer;  the kind that if you have to have breast cancer, it’s the best kind. I thought how lucky I am and that I’d like to work with people who have it worse. There are some amazing women out there that put up with some really difficult times. I enjoy working closely with the patients.

SJ/C: Do you find that patients are surprised we have dedicated nurse navigators and are appreciative of the role?

Karen: Yes, I think a lot of times they are. I’ll talk to patients and explain what I’m doing as far as their survivorship care plan, and they ask, ‘How much is this going to cost me?’ There’s no cost for it. They seemed surprised at that. I think it’s very helpful to have someone like a nurse navigator guide them along the way. It’s an important program, and it would be awesome if it grew because the patients do appreciate it. I think we do heal a lot of people because you get another level of guidance during your treatment.

SJ/C: What does it mean to you to work for St. Joseph’s/Candler that has kept you here for more than 40 years?

Karen: I’ve never thought about going anywhere else. It’s the family atmosphere. They do a lot for their employees here. I heard many horror stories from others at other hospitals during COVID, and here, they treated us so well. That’s the St. Joseph’s/Candler way – they treat us well. It’s not a given that’s going to happen to you in your workplace. Here, it’s actions. They live out the mission. They expect us to live it out, and they live it out towards us. It’s a great place to work.

Additionally, when I went through breast cancer, the people here were so wonderful to me. I think about it often how blessed I’ve been.

SJ/C: What advice you would share with new nurses or those considering a career in nursing?

Karen: I would say go with your gut, go with your heart. If you are looking for something where all you want to do is make a lot of money, nursing is not for you. It’s got to be a passion. If you love people and want to take care of people, this is the place to be. Follow your heart, and with your head, just know what you are interested in. In nursing, you have so many different opportunities. You have so many things you could be doing. I’ve done so many things in my career, it hasn’t just been one area. I was a floor nurse for a while. I was a leader for a while. I was an IV therapist for a while. There are so many niches that you can fit into.


Family: Married with two daughters and a son, three cats and two dogs
Travel and hiking


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