Three months after the B.C. Cancer Agency opened a patient care wing atop its Lee Avenue building, the 10,000-square-foot space is alive with staff, patients and volunteers – both those working one-on-one with clients and those behind the scenes, fundraising to optimize the services already in place.
When Wilma Taylor of the Order of the Eastern Star stopped by the Alex and Jo Campbell Patient and Family Support Centre with her fellow Queen City chapter members to make a donation on behalf of their organization, the person who led their tour of the supportive care facility was a volunteer lay navigator, a central component of the $10-million addition to the agency’s facility.
“I’m impressed,” Taylor said. “Everyone’s upbeat and positive; it’s much improved from when I was a kid.”
Taylor, co-organizer of the Starlight Pops Choir Swing Fever concert held earlier this year in support of the centre, alongside a group of fellow organizers, handed over a $4,000 cheque to staff and followed Lorne Mackie through the wing devoted to providing emotional and psychological support services.
The facility, which opened in March, includes a patient information library and a wellness room, and a station for volunteers such as Mackie, who are trained to lead patients through everything they need to know outside of treatment, from the moment of diagnosis.
“We guide them through that beginning stage – it’s a bumpy one,” Mackie said. “We discuss everything: finances, transportation, a list of questions to ask the doctor. Our role ends when they meet the oncologist.”
Though the donation from her Queen City chapter is relatively small, Taylor said, it makes a difference with chapters across B.C. and the Yukon contributing. The 146-year-old organization has donated to cancer treatment as far back as Taylor can remember, back to a time when her grandfather was receiving cobalt treatment at the outset of the technology.
“The treatment that they received at that time was very scary and now it’s more than hopeful. I can see a huge change not only in the way the patient is informed, but the way it’s a family thing – when one person gets cancer, everyone wants to know and to help.”
Shaun Lorhan, lead of navigation research for the B.C. Cancer Agency’s Vancouver Island Centre, lauded lay navigators such as Mackie for bridging some of the shortfalls in care.
“What we’ve heard from patients is that we do treatment really well, but we certainly have opportunities to improve our emotional care. Those navigators are really trying to understand from our patients’ perspective, whether it’s difficulty getting to the clinic or difficulty managing the people at home who may have their own health issues and concerns.”
This summer the wellness room will host an exercise study for patients with colorectal cancer and a yoga program aimed at managing cancer-related fatigue.
“Having that dedicated space has allowed us to look at new ways of enhancing care,” Lorhan said, noting her next focus will be on how patients transition out of care, back into the community and into the care of their family doctor.
“Years ago people used to tell you you’d get better, then we were really surprised when they died. We weren’t prepared. Now you don’t even think about it for more than a few minutes because there’s so much hope,” Taylor said. “Patients are not just a body or a cell, they’re treating the whole person.”
Initial funding for the project came via the 2009 Inspire the World campaign, supported by more than 1,000 Vancouver Island residents and business contributors. In 2013, more than 5,000 people on Vancouver Island are expected to be diagnosed with cancer. The B.C. Cancer Agency’s Vancouver Island Centre provides care to approximately 350 patients daily.