Screen for Life Coach brings cancer screening closer to home

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The Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton, Ontario has been exploring new terrain in the concept of ‘mobile’ health with the introduction of the Screen for Life Mobile Cancer Screening Coach. Roughly the size of a Greyhound bus, the cancer screening coach is fully equipped with a state-of-the-art digital mammography machine and supported by allied health professionals trained to perform Pap tests and provide cancer screening consultations.  Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) kits, the at-home test for colorectal cancer screening, are also available to patients who meet the eligibility criteria.

The introduction of the cancer screening coach represents a shift in the model of cancer care services delivery – where health services are brought directly  to people where they live, to facilitate access to care.

Since it’s launch in June 2013, the cancer screening coach’s focus has been on engaging the under/never screened population of women 50 – 74 years of age who may face cultural, social and/ or other barriers that make it difficult for them to participate in screening.  Initially stationed for a couple months at a time at community centres located  in priority areas in lower Hamilton, the cancer screening coach now operates on a rotating schedule, making regular visits to over 20 different sites across the lower city. In May 2015, the coach was also launched at Six Nations in Oshweken to make cancer screening more accessible to First Nations people.

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“Regular cancer screening can detect cancer at an early stage before symptoms develop, or detect changes that lead to cancer,” says Dr. Ralph Meyer, president, Juravinski Cancer Centre and regional vice president, Cancer Care Ontario.  “This is why we are reaching out to women and men in their communities to ensure they have equal access to care. The cancer screening coach is an innovative way to bring much needed services closer to home, especially for people who may otherwise not be screened for breast, cervical or colorectal cancer.”

Catherine Murray credits the cancer screening coach for saving her life. At the age of 54, Catherine had never received a mammogram even though she was eligible for the Ontario Breast Screening Program when she turned 50. There were other competing priorities, such as ensuring her utility bills could be paid, which brought her to the North Hamilton Community Health Centre, where the Coach had been stationed.

It was on this fateful trip that Catherine met Carrie Claxton, a medical radiology technologist who performs mammography on the Coach, who invited her to visit the state-of-the-art facility on wheels. Agreeing to breast screening, Catherine never expected that a test done on a bus would eventually lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer.

“I would never have found the tumour which was the size of a peach if I hadn’t received a mammogram on the Coach,” said Catherine. “I am extremely grateful to the people on the bus for helping me to find the cancer early enough that it’s treatable. To a certain extent, they saved my life.”

Catherine’s praise of the cancer screening coach team  is well warranted as their commitment to person-centred care and community engagement has made a significant impact on the communities the coach has served. For the past three years since the cancer screening coach hit the road, team members have actively demonstrated leadership in social advocacy and participatory action by reaching out to people at food banks, seniors groups, yoga classes and bingo forums. The team, which includes nurse navigators, medical radiology technologists, clerks, a health promotion specialist, a Primary Care Medical Lead and Regional Primary Care Aboriginal Cancer Physician Lead, has been resilient and resourceful in leading change by creating a positive environment that embraces diversity and equality in a non-judgmental way for people who may be otherwise wary of getting screened.

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“Trust is fundamental in any patient/caregiver relationship, but no more so than when it comes to caring for people who have rarely or never been screened for cancer,” says Dr. Meyer.  “The team’s compassionate approach has not only made remarkable contributions but has helped to ensure the success of a new and innovative patient-care model.”

In April 2015, the cancer screening coach team was recognized with a Human Touch Award from Cancer Care Ontario for providing exceptional care.

Features of the Coach include:

  • a full field digital mammography suite
  • an exam room for pap screening
  • two change rooms
  • wheelchair accessibility
  • running water
  • two back-up generators
  • shoreline availability
  • Wi-Fi to support information systems and communications