Jade Gibson’s personal experience with cancer treatment following a stage III ovarian cancer diagnosis at 16 years old inspired her to pursue a career as a patient navigator. She wanted to help people like her find their way through the fragmented health care system, providing invaluable guidance she never received during her own experience with cancer.
“I knew from where I came from, it was just a lack of knowledge and information,” Jade said. “Unfortunately, we just weren’t told about a lot of supportive services and resources that were available to myself and my mother during my diagnosis. You get lost in the shuffle, and you get discouraged.”
Patient navigators empower and guide patients to overcome barriers during cancer treatment, helping to ensure a seamless, high-quality breast care journey. “It’s the opportunity to serve as a human connector and be a bridge between the gaps in the spaces that aren’t being fulfilled for each patient,” Jade explained.
She initially pursued training through the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation Institute in New York in 2011. When Jade later learned of the opportunity to join Susan G. Komen’s patient navigation program in support of Stand for H.E.R. – a Health Equity Revolution – a Health Equity Revolution, she jumped at the chance.
Komen’s patient navigation program supporting Stand for H.E.R. takes a multifaceted approach to addressing inequities and barriers in the health care system, first and foremost by connecting patients to resources and support at every step of their breast care journey – from an abnormal mammogram, to a breast cancer diagnosis, to treatment and beyond. Black individuals who want to become patient navigators are encouraged to participate in the program, which provides specific training to ensure Black patients can overcome the barriers to high-quality care and treatment.
“The Stand for H.E.R. initiative is unique for patient navigation because the entire team is trained in a racism and bias module to help Black patients navigate the system,” Jade said. “We meet patients on their level. We’re able to educate patients, attest to health literacy and guide our people. You can’t find that anywhere else.”
Jade joined the growing number of highly trained Black patient navigators on Komen’s staff who work with Black patients in the 10 U.S. metropolitan cities where late-stage breast cancer diagnoses and mortality are the greatest. As the program grows, Black patient navigators will be available in more cities nationwide. The Komen navigators use Komen’s vast resource and program offerings, such as the financial assistance program, to support Black patients in the identified metropolitan cities.
“This program is revolutionary because you have to know our history to know where we’ve come from, and to know our fears and experiences with the health care system. Patient-provider communication is so important for Black patients. We don’t want to be intimidated by people in white coats, but that is very difficult when you feel like you’re in a setting where your knowledge is limited. You get overwhelmed and shut down,” Jade said.
“For patients who have been in that situation and reach out to Komen for help, I tell them to consider me as their personal assistant. I’m here to make sure they can focus on treatment and recovery, and I can take care of the research. By the end of our interaction, my goal is for patients to feel validated, heard, appreciated and seen. I want them to feel like someone heard what their experience was, understood what their barriers to care were and knew how to help.”
Komen’s goal is to train 200 Black navigators like Jade by the end of 2022 through the free, 10-week virtual patient navigation training program.
“There are real serious hardships that these patients are facing. To know that I can be a lighthouse for somebody, that just fills me up with joy,” Jade said. “After almost 17 years of survivorship, I’m making a dream come true.”
Patients can be connected to a patient navigator like Jade by calling the Breast Care Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in learning more about Komen’s virtual patient navigation training program or joining the next cohort, please download this resource or contact email@example.com.
Susan G. Komen would like to thank AstraZeneca for their generous support of the patient navigation program.