A woman is comforted by a medical professional.The moments following the words, “you have breast cancer,” can be understandably blurry.

Patients are often awash with thoughts of their families, friends and their future, and in shock and disbelief at the news. And while doctors or nurses deliver the news along with other important information, often the details are lost in the fog of the moment.

A new study published in the American Cancer Society’s journal Cancer, says most women overestimate just how well they know their disease. The study surveyed 500 women with breast cancer.

Overall, 32 percent to 82 percent said they knew each of the tumor characteristics they were asked about, while only 20 percent to 58 percent actually reported these characteristics correctly.

The study’s numbers weren’t surprising to Spectrum Health Regional Cancer Center registered nurse and Breast Cancer Multispecialty Team clinic coordinator Kelly McWilliams, and registered nurse and breast cancer nurse navigator, Mallary Nickels.

“Patients are overwhelmed at the start,” Nickels said. “There’s a discrepancy of understanding, due to the overwhelming news and all the information. It’s a confusing time when there are a lot of emotions, and it’s hard to take it all in.”

McWilliams agreed.

“Timing is important,” the registered nurse in Spectrum Health’s high-risk breast cancer clinic said. “It’s a blur when they first learn they have cancer. The absorption just isn’t there. I always ask, ‘Do you have questions? What can I clarify?’ and roughly 75 percent need clarification.”

McWilliams and Nickels are part of the comprehensive team approach for patients diagnosed with breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates 231,840 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2015, with 1 in 8 women in the U.S. expected to develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Patients who come to Spectrum Health’s clinic meet with a breast surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, genetic counselor, medical social worker and nurse navigator all in one visit. The visit is typically scheduled within a week or less, helping to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty that comes after diagnosis. They said they help ease the minds of their patients with clear communication, easy-to-understand information, and ongoing support through a difficult time.

“My role comes usually after their initial diagnosis,” Nickels said of her position as nurse navigator. “I’m an extra layer of support and provide nursing knowledge. I’ll go through their pathology report line by line with them and explain it in terms they can understand. I follow them through active treatments and am available to them any time, answering questions about their care.”

The nurse navigator is a fast-growing position in an even faster-growing field, and helps guide patients through their cancer experience, including follow-up even a year after active treatment has ended.

Having a nurse navigator can be an enormous benefit to patients (and often a large factor when patients select a hospital). McWilliams said the understanding often starts with a simple phone call.

“I think it happens each week in our multispecialty clinic where we discuss the patient’s diagnosis and treatment plan,” she said. “There’s a lot of anxiety taking place from the moment they get their diagnosis. Explaining pathology, reviewing their treatment — we go into a lot of detail — and they’re just jotting notes. So having that follow-up call is essential to clarify confusion.”

Nickels said ultimately, it’s the nurse navigator’s responsibility to impart more than just information to their patients.

“I think one of the most important things is that they trust their caregivers, know we have their best interests at heart and have a good understanding of their situation,” she said. “It’s important they know there’s a knowledgeable person by their side to help them along the way.”

To schedule an appointment or for a second opinion, contact Spectrum Health Regional Cancer Center at 1.855.SHCANCER (855.742.2623).