[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
Patient navigators empower and guide patients to overcome barriers during cancer treatment, helping to ensure a seamless, high-quality breast cancer journey. They help allow the patient to focus on treatment and recovery, by helping to take care of a whole host of other things such as research for supportive and funding services available.
Today’s guest had a personal experience with stage III ovarian cancer at the age of 16, which inspired her to pursue a career as a patient navigator. She wanted to help people like her find their way through a fragmented health care system and provide the guidance that she never received during her own experience with cancer.
Here today to share more about her role as a patient navigator as part of Susan G. Komen’s patient navigation program in support of Stand for H.E.R – a Healthy Equity Revolution, and the ways that it can help support patients is Jade Gibson. Jade, welcome to the show!
[00:01:10] Jade Gibson: Hi Adam. Thank you for having me on the Real Pink Podcast.
[00:01:14] Adam Walker: I’m so excited to talk to you. I This is so important, being a patient navigator. I mean that the healthcare system is so difficult to navigate and people like you that are making a difference in the lives of patients are just making such a huge impact.
So to start with, let’s talk about what led you to becoming a patient navigator. I think I alluded to it in the intro, but let’s talk more about it. Tell us about your journey.
[00:01:37] Jade Gibson: Yes, certainly. I was diagnosed with childhood ovarian cancer diagnosis, stage three germ cell carcinoma, which is a rare tumor that only occurs in young girls and girls rapidly at the age of 16.
Going through that journey the supportive care just was not there once I transitioned from pediatric to adult oncology. I was pretty much left to figure out what I qualified for on my own, and no one really had a conversation with myself or my mother during that time. So I began to do my own research.
The internet was becoming more of a popular thing in 2005, so I have more access to information, but I kept running into roadblocks because these organizations that I’d reach out to would say, oh are you in active treatment anymore? Or it asks my age. Or they’d say where are you located? And unfortunately, those were some of the top key things that would disqualify me immediately for support.
And so these were conversations that I started to share with my oncologist and I said I really want to do something when I go to college and, and in a way that will give back to people like me. And I never really understood what that meant. But then she told me about this newly developing field of patient navigation and that fit me. That fit the criteria for what I was looking to do.
[00:03:00] Adam Walker: I love that. I love that. So that is what inspired you to become a patient navigator. Now, I’m curious what brought you to Komen and related to that dream of patient navigation?
[00:03:16] Jade Gibson: Thankfully there’s value in connectivity. I come from a city that’s more rural, less metropolitan here in Georgia, which is Macon, it’s about an hour and a half away from Atlanta. And there was just, as I mentioned before, not a lot of support there and not really a lot I wouldn’t say not a very solid pipeline of information between what’s down there and what’s in the metropolitan area.
I started to do my own outreach, to find organizations specifically that were serving for psychosocial needs. And in that, I started asking the right questions, getting the wrong answers, but in my quest for that connectivity, because I, I was craving comradery, I was craving, didn’t matter where the people were.
I just wanted to find people that had gone through a similar experience, whether they have gynecologic cancer or any type of cancer, and they were women who were maybe within my age range. I really wanted that connectivity, and so I started to connect with these other directors and other people that are healthcare professionals working in that space of supportive care and found upon a group that a working group for the state.
And they said we connect with this organization and that, and before you know it I submit my application and here I am.
[00:04:33] Adam Walker: Oh man. That’s great. This is a great, a great story. And so how long have you been at Komen? And how’s it going?
[00:04:40] Jade Gibson: I started with Komen last August, so August of 2021. And I would say that it has been everything that I’ve ever envisioned for this role to be. You can take all the courses that you want, but it never really prepares you, I think, for the hands-on experience.
And I think with me having lived experience, that adds to the value of service that I can provide, because I hear these stories from the women that I work with and not only do I resonate in somewhat of their journey, but just seeing them as if they were individuals a part of my own family, it drives me to serve them to a higher level of service.
[00:05:18] Adam Walker: I would imagine that you have a level of empathy that most people in your position struggle to have, and that probably makes you just amazing at it.
Is that is that what you, would you agree with that? Does that sound about right?
[00:05:32] Jade Gibson: Thank you. I, I don’t relish in patting myself on the back often, but it takes a village. It’s not just me doing this job by myself. I fortunately work with a whole host of superheroes, as we like to call ourselves. So some super she-roes, the team is well equipped and staffed and we, we all lean on each other and share in this experience. So we only get better when we grow together.
[00:05:56] Adam Walker: That was an amazing answer to that, by the way. I set you up and you just, that was such a great answer. So I want to talk about this program because it’s a pilot program that many of our listeners might not know much about yet. What is it? And how is supporting our health equity effort and specifically, what is the Stand for H.E.R. Initiative?
[00:06:16] Jade Gibson: The Stand for H.E.R. Health Equity Initiative came about when Komen took action. They studied the cities in the 10 cities and the metropolitan areas and the nation where the greatest disparities for black women were. And they take, they took an interest to get those statistics and numbers together.
Not only just factual information, but sitting with women, sitting with people who work in these spaces, and getting that feedback to cultivate a new program that’s, I’ve never seen or witnessed anything like it in the space of cancer advocacy, if you will. And for that, you have people like myself who are culturally competent and trained to help navigate these issues that are specific to black patients.
Our patients are coming in sometimes from a place of lack of education and knowledge. Sometimes I say, use this analogy, that they’re just intimidated by people in white coats. We have a history in this country, black people specifically have a history, where that’s something that’s familiar. We try to avoid, unfortunately, going to the doctor at all costs if we can.
And so Komen has acknowledged that something needs to change here, to change these numbers around. Because women are dying, black women are dying at higher rates than their counterparts. And that should not be that, that doesn’t sound fair, and that doesn’t sound just.
[00:07:41] Adam Walker: Right. That’s right. That’s so important. So important. So we alluded to this in the intro, but I want to see if we can just explore it a bit more. So why is a patient navigator so helpful for someone that’s going through breast cancer?
[00:07:57] Jade Gibson: I like to say that there’s really no roadmap when you get this diagnosis, there’s not a lot of guidance that’s provided. So with there being that barrier it’s nice to have someone that can hold your hand and guide you along and process this.
So as a patient navigator, a lot of what people may not understand is that, the way I related it all, I like to think of myself as the patient’s personal assistant. Which is something that you need when you go through this. Yes, you have your health care team. Yes, you might have a caregiver or a closer by or with you, but there’s really not anyone there to really connect the dots in between.
And if you have outside barriers to care, that’s where I come in, because there are a lot of resources that are available to these patients to assist with the non-clinical aspects of life. They oftentimes are sole providers for their families, or they’re working women who received this diagnosis in the midst of some of the, some going through academia, some trying to run businesses, or just live their lives normally.
So it’s nice to know that you don’t have to make a choice necessarily between what am I going to eat, or if I’m going to have power, and am I going to be able to afford gas to go to treatment? Or to afford the treatment itself?
Am I going to have a place to stay if my treatment site is in Atlanta, Georgia, but I live in North Carolina. So these are a lot of the things that come up on my day to day conversations with patients, and it feels good to be able to mitigate some of that and provide some assurance and, and support.
[00:09:29] Adam Walker: So you’ve already mentioned, I think several resources, but I wonder if there’s a more, if you have a more exhaustive list in mind. Like what are some of the resources that you do connect people with? And what are some of the more tangible ways that you help them?
[00:09:43] Jade Gibson: I work within before I work out. So I like to connect because it’s often time within the healthcare system itself, there’s a lot that’s there, but it’s not necessarily really dusted off or explicitly shared.
So there is a program within that health system that provides either a gas voucher, for instance, if we’re talking about transportation. Patients aren’t not knowledgeable about that, they wouldn’t necessarily know how to get the application. So I become that liaison that kind of facilitates access to whoever that person is on the healthcare team that can get that to me, and if we need to coordinate how to complete it or get it submitted, then we work from there.
Working from within, and then expanding. If there is a national resource and there’s nothing locally to where that is for that patient regarding transportation. That’s when we start to look at other organizations like the Pink Fund, for instance, that will provide a grant or something similar to the Komen Financial Assistance Program, which we have here that also can provide funds that can be dispersed for those types of things.
[00:10:49] Adam Walker: Wow, okay, that’s good. I did not know about the gas voucher, so that’s a good thing to know that that’s a potential thing, I would imagine that would really help a lot. So what does it mean for you personally, to be able to impact women and families in the way that you do?
[00:11:04] Jade Gibson: I think it comes from being on the other side of lack. Lack of knowledge and lack of access. That’s what I tried to provide within these conversations because they can’t see me. They’ll likely never meet me. So I want to leave a lasting impression to let my patients know that they were though they weren’t visibly seen, I saw them, I heard them, and I’m validating what they’re going through in their experience and letting them that know that these things that sometimes we are afraid to share with other people, I’m the right person you can share that with, you can confide in me and I’ll make sure that your voice is heard and we can mitigate it from there. You don’t have to walk this path alone.
[00:11:46] Adam Walker: So important. You don’t have to walk this path alone.
There are patient navigators that are available to help and if you’re a patient or you you someone. If you’re a patient that would like to be connected to a patient navigator like Jade, you can call the Breast Care Helpline at 1877-GO-KOMEN or email firstname.lastname@example.org. So Jade, I appreciate the work that you do.
Thank you for just being an encouragement and having a big smile, even though our listeners can’t see that, and just thank you for all the just amazing impact you’re having on this community.
[00:12:20] Jade Gibson: Thanks so much, Adam. It was a pleasure to be here.
[00:12:27] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit RealPink.com. For more on breast cancer, visit Komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog, AdamJWalker.com.