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For Dennis King, helping cancer patients has been both a profession and a passion. Over the past 11 years as a Patient Navigation coordinator, he has guided patients at USA Mitchell Cancer Institute as they “walk through the valley of cancer.”
The work is also personal for King, 65, whose mother and sister are breast cancer survivors. On Friday, April 29, he retires as a professional navigator, but will continue pursuing his passion to help those in need.
“Dennis has supported both patients and staff with his encouragement and faith,” said Cathy Tinnea, MCI nurse navigator. “We will truly miss his loving heart and smiling face at USA Mitchell Cancer Institute.”
King started his career with the University of South Alabama in 1995 as executive director for the community-based service center, House of Hope. He has worked as a patient navigator since 2005.
The goal of Patient Navigation is to help cancer patients overcome financial, psychological, physical, medical, transportation and other cancer treatment barriers. Patient navigation was created in 1990 by Dr. Harold Freeman at the Harlem Institute; King trained with Dr. Freeman at the National Institutes of Health, he said.
As a patient navigator at MCI, King has helped patients “secure through community-based agencies those resources that exist in the community.” King guided patients through the process to ensure they benefited from any and all services for which they are eligible.
In helping patients overcome emotional and psychological barriers, King has shared his own faith and experience of living with heart failure since February 2008. King has undergone many clinical treatments for his illness but has always relied on his faith noting that, “the 23rd Psalm has been with me as I was getting many different procedures. When I had a stem cell transplant, prior to and during the procedure, it was something that I said over and over until I lost consciousness, and it was the first thing I said when I woke up.”
“I realize that I have the responsibility as well as the opportunity, to be a leader and an example to those patients that I serve, in that I may not have cancer, but I have a terminal disease that most people don’t survive for as long as I’ve had it,” he said.
“Every patient has needs, whether that’s intense connectivity or just being aware and understanding of what they’re going through. Some days there’s anger that they have, but (I don’t) take it personally,” he said. “My job is to make a difference in the lives of people, and the outcomes that we receive as a result are very gratifying.”
During various stages of treatment and at their treatment graduation day, MCI patients participate in a bell-ringing ceremony. King recalls a patient expressing that they would miss coming to MCI, stating, “Now that I’ve experienced the love and care and direction and concern from the entire staff, I realize just how blessed I’ve been.” It’s that kind of response that “makes you feel fulfilled, honored, shown grace, and certainly understand mercy” King said.
Post-retirement, King will continue advocating for those who suffer from cancer and chronic illnesses. Not only is King a chaplain at Mobile Infirmary, but he also serves at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital upon request.
“My plan is to work several hours during the week at Ronald McDonald House and in the Boys & Girls Club as a mentor.” King will also take a bigger role in his health ministry with various community organizations such as the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Breast and Cervical Cancer early screening program, and others.
“Sometimes the reason we meet people when we meet them is because the season changes; needs change; desires change, so we have to understand, this is a new season for me that I’m entering, but I take some of the old with me,” he said, “but I also grasp for the new, because surely I’ve been blessed, and I know that my path will be directed to where the need is both with those that I serve but also to myself.”
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