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Improving the cancer care journey for First Nations, Inuit, Métis and Urban Indigenous people

April 15, 2019

By Jennifer Lee

This article is part of a special series featuring The Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers at Women’s College Hospital - a collaboration with the Canadian Cancer Society. The centre draws together excellence in research, clinical care, innovation and education for women’s cancers.

On March 27, an event hosted by the Toronto Central Region’s Indigenous Cancer Program in partnership with Women’s College Hospital (WCH) gathered together leaders from healthcare organizations in the region to raise awareness around cancer care, identify some of the biggest barriers for Indigenous women in the Toronto Central Region (TCR) and explore opportunities to collaborate on improvements.  

The event, “Enhancing the Cancer Care Journey for First Nations, Inuit, Métis, and Urban Indigenous Peoples: Pathways to Equitable Access for Indigenous Women” highlighted gender specific factors and linked backed to the history behind Canada’s residential school system and the long lasting, negative inter-generational impact it has had on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous women, families and communities. 

Dr. Bernice Downey, regional indigenous cancer lead in the Toronto Central Region Cancer Program, opened the event and reflected on her years spent working with the TCR Indigenous Team to improve access to care for Indigenous people in the region.

Downey reminded everyone in the room that “often there’s a fear about saying the wrong thing in the moment. It’s important to remember that when you are speaking with Indigenous people and you feel you have made a mistake, there’s usually somebody around to correct you. This is better than saying nothing - that silence can be deafening.”

Victoria Noguera, director of perioperative services and gynecology, patient care and ambulatory innovation management at Women’s College Hospital pointed to the work ahead to improve health for people living in these communities, highlighting the gap in life expectancy and need to reach underserved populations, like Indigenous women.

While on the panel, Elaine Goulbourne, administrative director at The Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers spoke on a panel about the centre’s commitment to Indigenous health, highlighting the hospital’s commitment to Indigenous people in its plan as well as the new Indigenous Women’s Cancer Strategy, which startedin 2018 to increase screening for breast and ovarian cancer.

“This is all based on the understanding that women from these communities are being underserved when it comes to screening for cancer and the research shows that they tend to present later with breast cancer symptoms,” says Goulbourne. “We want to change this and form reliable bridges to care in the community that will enhance cancer screening and improve health outcomes for Indigenous peoples.” The effort is based on WCH’s commitment to “explore and build partnerships to strengthen Indigenous health across Ontario,” under its five year strategy Healthcare Revolutionized.

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