Helping Navigate Your Cancer Journey

Aboriginal Navigator

Metroland Column July 2018                                                                        

Written by: Kathy MacLeod Beaver, Aboriginal Navigator for Durham Regional Cancer Centre and Central East Regional Cancer Program

Not long ago, I had the great honour of supporting an Indigenous woman in the final days before her death. She wanted to connect to her cultural roots and leave something for her children.

With her permission, I reached out to my local cultural knowledge keepers asking them for their help. She was given a sacred drum that represents the heartbeat of our Mother. It is the first sound we hear when we are born into the beginning of our journey. As an Aboriginal Patient Navigator at the Durham Regional Cancer Centre, I take direction from patients and do my best to help them with whatever they need for their life journey.

Some populations, including Indigenous peoples, are at greater risk for developing cancer and have worse outcomes than others. In a geography as diverse as Durham Region, we at Lakeridge Health and Durham Regional Cancer Centre must do everything we can to meet the diverse needs of everyone who comes through our doors. 

I am happy to say that we are making real progress. We have been learning from Indigenous communities so that we can create unique and diverse solutions for healing and health. Central East Regional Aboriginal Cancer Lead Dr. Jason Pennington and I used that learning when we participated in the co-design of Lakeridge Health’s new Inclusion, Diversity and Engagement (IDE) Framework. The IDE Framework is designed to increase health equity and reduce disparities in our diverse region.  

Research shows that First Nations, Inuit and Métis people who feel safe, more at ease and empowered while they receive care are more likely to return for follow up visits and to follow the treatment plans recommended by health care providers.

According to Cancer Care Ontario, the risk of dying from cancer is significantly higher in First Nations communities than among other Ontarians. The risk is highest for lung, colorectal, kidney, cervical and liver cancers. In fact, statistics show that less than half of First Nations males (43 per cent) and females (49 per cent) survived five years or longer after a cancer diagnosis, compared to over half of all males (54 per cent) and females (60 per cent) in Ontario.

As you can see, this is important work. I am eager to see where we will be able to go when we navigate the path to achieving health and well-being together with the First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in the Central East region.

If you are receiving cancer care and identify as having Aboriginal ancestry, I encourage you to ask your health care team to refer you to the Aboriginal Navigator. I would be honoured to help you navigate your cancer journey. You can reach me at 905-576-8711 or 1-866-338-1778, extension 2554.  Let’s journey together.