Becoming a “bridge over troubled waters” in support of cancer patients
Even as a little girl, I knew I wanted to work in a hospital. While my friends thought about teaching or law, I knew the hospital was where I belonged. And this is where I’ve ended up—helping cancer patients and their families at Hope & Cope—but the route that brought me here is one I never expected to follow.
After giving some thought to nursing, I learned that Dawson College was offering a program in medical radiography—using x-rays and special procedures to give doctors a clearer picture inside the patient. Here was a career that married my love of patient care, science and innovation.
From 1972 to 1996, as a radiographer at St. Mary’s Hospital and in private clinics, I witnessed the introduction of mammograms, ultrasound and angiograms—procedures that are now commonplace. I also continued to study, obtaining my B.Sc. in biology from Concordia University.
At the same time, radiography enabled me to work part-time while raising my two sons, and still be part of a growing profession. I even became a clinical instructor at Dawson, training new technicians during the hands-on portion of their studies.
They say an impromptu meeting can change your life, and two of them changed mine. By 1995, just when I felt I needed a change, an acquaintance told me about McGill University’s social work program. Convinced I would be a natural, she urged me to apply.
As it happened, a close friend had just died of cancer and I saw how much help she had received from the healthcare team. Here was a new career where I could provide even more help! I realized I had to make the career change now, at 46, or I never would. So I completed the special Bachelor of Social Work program in 1996, and went on to earn my Master’s degree in 1997.
Until 2000, I worked at Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatrics Centre, a meaningful experience of helping seniors and their families settle into a new phase of life. While I miss the scientific aspects of radiography, my new career—at Maimonides, and now at Hope & Cope—enables me to better understand the full human condition and make a lasting contribution to the well-being of vulnerable individuals.
Shortly afterward, in the second of my two lucky meetings, someone told me about an opening at Hope & Cope, reminding me that my medical background, science degree and experience in geriatrics made me a worthy candidate. I was hired and have been here since 2000.
At Hope & Cope, I work with an outstanding staff, and also with numerous volunteers, most of whom have either had cancer or served as caregivers. This close personal experience has provided them with invaluable knowledge, enhanced by their skills, compassion and dedication. Each person is so special that I’m not surprised that some of them have been with us for more than 30 years.
Their commitment is essential to Hope & Cope’s ability to regularly incorporate innovative ways of supporting cancer patients and their families. For this reason, our organizational model—powered by volunteers and managed by professional staff—has been replicated in many settings.
As Hope & Cope’s main intake worker, I handle most inquiries from out-patients and in-patients. Given our reputation throughout Montreal and beyond, I get calls from patients in other hospitals, from community organizations and even from outside Quebec. I also coordinate volunteers for the JGH Oncology Clinic and for hospital visits. In addition, I interview new volunteers and guide them into the organization, as well as liaising with hospital staff, attending medical rounds and coordinating a wide variety of educational programs.
In an average year, I come into personal contact with about 400 new patients on the phone or in person in the clinic or at the bedside. This is why I’ve come to see myself as a “bridge over troubled waters,” linking individuals directly to hospital and community services, and to Hope & Cope’s free programs and services, which are available to all patients. Here, too, I’ve seen the birth of our Wellness Centre, our increased involvement in the Segal Cancer Centre at the JGH, and the survivorship initiative which I now head.
I know I’m honouring my late friend’s memory each and every time I help someone cope with their diagnosis. There is no better reward than this.
Survivorship Program Coordinator