UCHealth Gloria Gossard Breast Care Center nurse named one of Colorado Health Care Stars
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Jackie Strohl didn’t think she would be facing a cancer diagnosis in her 30’s.
“It was so scary and overwhelming,” Strohl said of her breast cancer diagnosis several years ago and everything that followed it. But, a few things made it more manageable.
One was Frannie Johnson, a nurse navigator at UCHealth Gloria Gossard Breast Care Center in Steamboat Springs.
“I’m so grateful for Frannie,” Strohl said. “I fell in love with her right away. She was so understanding, compassionate and so knowledgable. She walked me through every step, and held my hand and kept me grounded.”
Last week, Johnson was one of twelve health care providers in the state to be recognized as a Colorado Health Care Star. The award recognizes “professionals who are going above and beyond.”
Colorado Hospital Association representatives surprised Johnson last Wednesday with a surprise lunch and ceremony with many of her co-workers in attendance.
Johnson said she was caught off guard but honored, especially by the turnout and people who came on their day off. She said she’s just doing her job.
But, her colleagues say the recognition is well deserved, and Johnson is a key part of what makes the UCHealth Gloria Gossard Breast Care Center a top notch facility, with dedicated staff and a high level of expertise.
“She goes the extra length for patients,” said Lindsay Jacox, director of imaging services at the center. “She is a patient advocate who doesn’t take no for an answer. She finds the right path for treatment, and if it isn’t here, she calls around and finds it.”
Tiffany Park, lead mammographer at the center, described Johnson as a unique and integral part of the team. The navigator role, she said, puts Johnson in a one-on-one relationship with the patient, communicating with various doctors and specialists and coordinating every facet of a patient’s care from screening to diagnosis to treatment.
Dr. Terese Kaske, the center’s breast radiologist, commended Johnson for her ability to connect and establish relationships with patients.
“We are lucky to have her,” Kaske said. “She makes us better as a care center” by adding continuity throughout a patient’s experience and treatment that not every center is able to offer.
“It’s so nice for someone in my position — who is scared and doesn’t know what is happening — to have someone I can count on no matter what,” Stohl said. “I’m so thankful for Frannie and her big heart.” Stohl said Johnson called her frequently to check on her.
And Strohl attributes the early detection of her cancer to Johnson and the entire team at the center. As soon as it was determined Strohl was considered “high risk” for breast cancer, Johnson “pushed me to stay on top of my screenings,” she said. “She saved my life.”
Today, Strohl is cancer free but reminds others, “In life, cancer does not discriminate.” She also urges anyone who is told they are at risk, “Don’t wait. Go in and get checked as soon as possible.”
Johnson said she knows how difficult and shocking the first diagnosis is — and what is ahead. Her priority for her patients is to “encourage them and let them know they are not alone in the journey.” But she also knows breast cancer is a “very treatable and curable disease.” And Johnson said she is there to let patients know, “We will be able to get through this one step at a time.”
The best part of the job for her is “Meeting women and forming great relationships and seeing how women rise up to the tough challenges.”
Jacox, who nominated Johnson, wrote, “We are a small, rural community, lacking many of the resources larger cities offer. These lack of resources pose challenges, but Frannie always overcomes them, fighting for her patients. We need angels like Frannie in this world and are lucky to have her in this little mountain town.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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Fighting any cancer is difficult, yet for a woman fighting breast cancer, the medical struggles may be heightened by emotional feelings that threaten a woman’s sense of femininity.