Breast Cancer Patient Navigators Welcome Support

l-r Leslie Kepka, Andrea Ruel, Patient Navigators, and Janice Caputo, Breast Assessment Clerk help to guide women through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
l-r Leslie Kepka, Andrea Ruel, Patient Navigators, and Janice Caputo, Breast Assessment Clerk help to guide women through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

l-r  Leslie Kepka, Andrea Ruel, Patient Navigators, and Janice Caputo, Breast Assessment Clerk help to guide women through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
l-r Leslie Kepka, Andrea Ruel, Patient Navigators, and Janice Caputo, Breast Assessment Clerk help to guide women through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Breast Cancer Care in Thunder Bay

THUNDER BAY – HEALTH – Receiving a phone call informing you that follow-up tests are required after a breast mammogram can be a confusing and worrisome experience. However, having a dedicated Breast Patient Navigator on the other end of the line delivering this news is often like having a friend to guide you along the way.

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) has two Patient Navigators, Andrea Ruel and Leslie Kepka, who focus solely on patients undergoing further breast assessment if an abnormality or concern is identified through a mammogram, self-examination or by a healthcare provider. They work with the patients through to their diagnosis, either positive or negative, for breast cancer. The Patient Navigators serve as a bridge between the various healthcare providers, clinics and doctors’ offices that are involved with these patients’ care. Together, Andrea and Leslie help patients from three sources: the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP), the Linda Buchan Centre and the OBSP High Risk Breast Screening Program.

The Patient Navigator’s primary responsibilities include: informing and educating patients about upcoming procedures such as biopsies, ensuring all the components of a patient’s care are working together, and implementing strategies to improve the patient experience. They strive to provide a personal touch to the women they serve by addressing concerns, answering questions and providing comfort. Additionally, they reassure each patient that they are just a phone call away and are always happy to provide support.

Ruel is a Medical Radiation Technologist specializing in mammography. In addition to her duties as a Patient Navigator, she works in the Linda Buchan Centre for Breast Screening and Assessment located in the Diagnostic Imaging Department at TBRHSC. Kepka is a Registered Nurse and has her Canadian Nurses Association Certification in Oncology. She also holds a second position as a nurse with Regional Cancer Care Northwest. Ruel and Kepka collaborate together along with a third key team member, Janice Caputo, the Breast Assessment Clerk. Janice arranges women’s follow-up appointments, enters data for women requiring follow up tests at all OBSP sites and helps Ruel and Kepka coordinate women’s mammograms when they return to regular screening.

Ruel and Kepka find the Patient Navigator role extremely rewarding. ”By helping the patients, providing reassurance and easing anxiety, we are able to go home feeling good,” says Ruel. ”Our patients enjoy having someone available to answer their questions in detail,” adds Kepka.

Shanni Valley, a breast cancer patient who is currently undergoing treatment, knows the importance of the Patient Navigators while looking for a diagnosis. When she received her first phone call from Ruel, she didn’t know the support was available. “I didn’t know they existed! I was relieved someone had eyes on me. I am a nurse, but I don’t know everything about the cancer journey. If there was ever any confusion, Andrea was on the phone, getting the various healthcare professionals together and keeping me in the loop. She was totally on top of things. And they are just a phone call away.”

The ability of the Navigators to address individual patient’s needs reinforces TBRHSC’s commitment to Patient and Family Centred Care. Some of the stress and anxiety experienced by patients can be eased through the Patient Navigators – a welcomed experience for these women.

Julie Bailey