I am a breast cancer survivor. And I have two stories to tell about that. A short one and a long one.
The short one is, I was diagnosed in 2015. The lump my doctor found was so big she thought maybe it was a breast implant. So did my ultrasound technician. Problem was, I didn’t have an implant. What I had was stage three lobular cancer.
That’s when everything started to move fast. Eight rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and two surgeries. I got the full meal deal, and seven years later, fingers crossed, I’m okay. That’s the short story.
The longer story isn’t about the cure, but the care. I have a theory about health care. I think that in the late 20th century, medicine lost something. Patients became secondary. It seemed the focus was on how many patients you could push through.
This is a widespread problem, but at St. Michael’s Hospital, I did not encounter it. Quite the opposite.
My oncologist, Dr. Rashida Haq, answered every question I had. When she shuts the door of her office, she’s with you as long as you need. She treated me, Jennifer, not the breast cancer or the breast cancer patient. She did treat my breast cancer. But while she was doing that, she treated me. The human being.
My cancer surgeon, Dr. Jory Simpson, did the same. It was about me, not just my cancer.
And when it came time for my surgery, as I got on the table, in tears because I was so scared, every single person in that operating room told me who they were, and what their role was. And that took some of the fear away. My philosophy is, when I’m on an operating table, I’m a body and do with me as you must. But until the moment I’m asleep, I am also Jennifer, and I was treated as Jennifer.
My experience was holistic. I received a standard of care that I know other people who have gone through breast cancer at different hospitals were not lucky enough to get.
So now, I do my small part to help other patients receive that care. I helped Dr. Simpson launch a program called Patient as Teacher, and I am still with the program. As the name suggests, patients share their experiences and insights with medical students so they understand the surgical journey from the perspective of patients. We remind them of the importance of keeping health care rooted in empathy and humanity. It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
I have a few heroes in my story. Most are individuals, but a big one is St. Michael’s Hospital. The foundation has just launched the HUMANCARE campaign, which is reinventing the patient care experience by making health care more human.
Well, they did that for me seven years ago. HUMANCARE is the name they have given to the kind of care they want to see everyone get, and I am going to champion that movement in any way I can.
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