Navigating Cancer Care for Indigenous Patients

Headshot of Deena Klodot

Cultural traditions and identity run deep, bringing a wealth of history and unique perspectives on the world. Providing inclusive and effective health care involves understanding and respecting the needs of diverse cultures. That is one reason why the Indigenous Cancer Care Program at Juravinski Cancer Centre is so important.

“I support Indigenous cancer patients from their diagnosis all the way to the end of their treatment, which in some cases includes palliative care,” explains Deena Klodt, Indigenous Patient Navigator. “I facilitate and coordinate access to cancer services, helping to ensure that patients’ cultural needs are met.”

“Building relationships and having the opportunity to help families throughout the whole trajectory of care is truly humbling.”

This may include the use of traditional ceremonies, such as drumming and smudging, or the use of traditional medicines. Deena works closely with First Nations and urban Indigenous communities in the region to ensure that special resources and services are available.

Building bridges

“My work is also about helping Indigenous patients feel more comfortable and safe if they are reluctant to access health care services from a mainstream organization,” says Deena. “Some of them may have experienced discrimination in the past, which affects their level of trust and creates a reluctance to access services.”

Deena’s work is also about educating clinicians about the specific cultural needs of each patient. For example, health care workers may not realize the deep cultural importance of traditional ceremonies or medicines to Indigenous patients. A greater level of knowledge builds empathy and leads to better care.

“I feel privileged to do this unique work,” says Deena. “Building relationships and having the opportunity to help families throughout the whole trajectory of care is truly humbling.”