Open letter to Health and Social Services Minister Glenn Hart:
I am writing to express my overwhelming disappointment and dismay with the Yukon government’s recent decision to discontinue funding for the Cancer Care Navigator position.
This decision represents a huge disservice towards improving level of care for cancer patients in the Yukon.
I am writing out of personal experience, as someone who was recently diagnosed, and have chosen to share my experience in the hope that other people who may find themselves in my position will be able to access what I think was one of the most important aspects of support that I received during the course of my diagnosis.
My New Year’s resolution to have a screening mammogram in January 2010 led to an emotionally numbing roller coaster ride over the next two months: abnormal mammogram result; follow-up ultrasound; core biopsy, which returned the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer.
I endured a waiting period of approximately two months between my abnormal mammogram and the final diagnosis, a time that was probably one of the most emotionally intense and stressful periods I have ever gone through in my lifetime of more than 50 years.
While the medical professionals were sympathetic and provided me with an information kit and short meetings to discuss my results, they were frankly too busy dealing with an overloaded patient system to be able to sit with me for any great length of time to review the existing research and treatment options, or to provide continual emotional or moral support.
It was through a fellow co-worker and breast cancer survivor that I learned about the Cancer Care Navigator in Whitehorse.
I cannot begin to express my appreciation and thanks to the woman who filled the navigator position, who initially met with me for more than two hours and, in that meeting and subsequent discussions, provided me with an understanding of the medical protocols in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, calmed my fears and uncertainties, explained test results, explained what the treatment options might be, reassured me during the nightmarish waiting period before the results were confirmed and helped me to negotiate the sometimes fragmented communications between medical offices.
She did this with objectivity, knowledge and compassion.
At the time, I was also facing the stresses of relocating to another province and had little knowledge of how to arrange the transfer of my care from one provincial jurisdiction to another.
The navigator provided me with concrete suggestions on financial assistance, communicated with the medical professionals in Whitehorse, connected me with the Breast Health Navigator in BC, and followed up with me every step of the way.
I can honestly say that without the help of the navigator, my stress level would have been through the rooftop, dealing not only with a cancer diagnosis, but also having to figure out how to negotiate between two medical systems on my own.
In retrospect, I found it very disturbing that at no time during my diagnosis did any medical professional advise me of the existence of the Cancer Care Navigator position or the fact that I could utilize her services.
This letter is not intended to be a criticism of the status of our health-care system.
My own diagnosis and treatment has progressed more quickly than in other parts of the country. The doctors, surgeons and other health professionals who were involved in my diagnosis provided me with a high standard of care and in the case of the Yukon, this involved the additional challenges of communicating test results between three different jurisdictions (surgery consultation and imaging services in Whitehorse; interpretation of radiological imaging in Edmonton; and interpretation of pathology in Vancouver).
I still believe Canada offers one of the highest levels of health care in the world, and have only had to present my health-care card for every medical service I have received.
However, I am profoundly saddened the health support that was most important to me during my diagnosis, the supportive and informational role of the Cancer Care Navigator, has now been cut from the system.
Those people who are brought face-to-face with a life-threatening illness need all the support that the system can muster, and by cutting the position of the Cancer Care Navigator, this support has been taken away.
Undoubtedly more pressure will be put on existing medical professionals to fill in the gaps, and my experience tells me this will be a very difficult challenge, as the system is already overloaded and fragmented. There are two Breast Health Navigator positions in the city where I now live, and I am eternally grateful for the ongoing support that they continue to provide me throughout my course of treatment.
I ask you, Hart, to reconsider the government’s actions in cutting funding for this position, which plays such a critical role in providing support for the person facing cancer diagnosis and treatment.
See more letters page 8.