Posted: February 2, 2024

Saying a cancer diagnosis has shaped your life is pretty obvious. Saying that you used your story to shape cancer care, not so much. However, that’s exactly the path Joanne McPhail, a patient of Grand River Regional Cancer Centre, has taken.

Joanne was first diagnosed with breast cancer more than 30 years ago. “Cancer care looked really different at Grand River Hospital back then. There was no Cancer Centre. There wasn’t a full team or treatment options. There wasn’t the support system many cancer patients, survivors, and families have access to today.”

Joanne first noticed her lump just before Christmas. “I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to spoil the holidays. They told me my odds of surviving were fifty-fifty. And, I didn’t like those odds.”

Approaching her diagnosis with determination has served Joanne well over the past three decades and two recurrences. She fostered a small, self-run support group. She responded to regional and provincial calls to share her story about cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“I was asked what I wanted it to look like, and I said a one-stop shop. That for breast screening, women go in for a mammogram, and if on review more images are needed, they stay for an ultrasound, get a biopsy, or meet with an oncologist. All in one place. All at one time. And people said that would never happen. But, look where we are now. Fifteen years after my first diagnosis and sharing my feedback, when my cancer had the audacity to come back, I went through the Waterloo Wellington Breast Centre at Freeport.”

Reflecting on her travels with cancer, Joanne is grateful that she’s had a chance to not only share her story but to also have it heard. To see the impact of what she, and other patients, are looking for in the evolution of cancer care is empowering. Having a community of support and a dedicated centre close to home gives her ongoing travels meaning and perspective.

“The biggest change in cancer treatment since my first diagnosis is more people are surviving,” she says. This is only possible because of advancements in care. Advancements made possible because patients’ stories are heard and acted on. And, because the government and donors continue to invest in cancer care.

Joanne has used her voice locally as a member of the Patient Family Advisory Council at Grand River Regional Cancer Centre. She’s also spoken provincially and nationally. And, her journey continues. “I’m a proud survivor but also an ongoing patient. My story continues because my cancer is lurking somewhere and is being followed by my team at Grand River Regional Cancer Centre.”

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