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First peer navigators ready to guide prostate cancer patients

Mar 22, 2017 |

The first peer navigators are ready to help newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients navigate the healthcare system.

The five men, themselves prostate cancer survivors, have trained for six weeks to complete a set of 65 competencies as part of the Peer Empowered Partnership in Prostate Cancer program that will help them guide newly diagnosed peers through their treatment and decision-making process.

Shimae Soheilipour and Brian Wells

Project manager Shimae Soheilipour and peer navigator Brian Wells

“One-on-one assistance would have made it a bit easier to collect information [about] a pathway to progress and treatment,” Burnaby support group leader and peer navigator Rene Andersen said. Not having the navigator program meant information was not easily available when he was receiving treatment in 2012, he said.

Fellow peer navigator Brian Wells said when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, everyone he spoke with had had radical prostatectomies, which could have side effects. “My urologist made it sound like it was the only option.”

With the peer navigator training, he hopes to support men looking for alternative treatments to radical therapies – he underwent brachytherapy – and sees his role as a way of giving back to the community for the treatment he received.

Mr Andersen said the program would provide knowledge and support that was not limited by time, as could happen with medical practitioners.

Lisa Parvin and Rene Andersen

Project Coordinator Lisa Parvin, and facilitator Eric Huffey and Rene Andersen

“There’s a difference between medical treatment and support.”
Peer navigator Rene Andersen

Run by School of Population and Public Health (SPPH) Professor Arminée Kazanjian, the navigators will interact with newly diagnosed patients, providing them with information and resources housed on a secure online platform, steering patients towards reliable information, and providing support.

The navigators learned competencies including skills such as empathetic listening, Dr. Kazanjian said, empowering patients to make decisions for themselves about their treatment. And they put in more than the four to six hours required a week during the training, she said.
“They were learning from each other…each of them brought different experiences to this.”

Arminee Kazanjian and Daniel Leung

Professor Arminée Kazanjian and peer navigator Daniel Leung

Graduate research assistant Nandini Maharaj helped navigators gain practice with communications skills and empathetic listening through roleplaying.
“We want them to take ownership for their own healthcare decisions and have the peer as a source of support and guidance but not be dependent upon them.”

Project manager Shimae Soheilipour said for cancer, social support played a significant role in coping with the disease and in moderating treatment-related distress. The program provided an innovative approach to accessing supportive care for prostate cancer patients and their family members.

“For men with prostate cancer, one-on-one support from a peer cancer survivor has been reported in the literature to be the most valued form.”

The navigators are first in a group of 12, with 17 also being trained in Toronto, Dr. Kazanjian said. Patient recruitment is slated for this month, and evaluation of the pilot will begin next year.

If this shows positive results, Dr. Kazanjian hopes the program will be picked up and become the standard offering of Prostate Cancer Canada, available throughout the country.

“The disease isn’t different from one province to the next and the human aspect of dealing with severe diagnosis and treatment doesn’t change either.”
Professor Arminée Kazanjian

Students interested in working with Dr. Kazanjian on this project can contact her via email to discuss summer internships and ways to participate without compromising their study time.

This work was awarded by Prostate Cancer Canada and is funded by the Movember Foundation. The first cohort was trained in February 2017.

Banner picture from left: facilitator Eric Huffey and peer navigator Rene Andersen.

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