A breast cancer diagnosis is always gut-wrenching. For Brandi Lee Hicks, it was made all the worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which added a new level of uncertainty to an already stressful time.
“I remember writing all of my many, many appointments into my calendar, and I broke down,” says Hicks. “It was all too overwhelming.”
Shock, fear and overwhelming feelings are common reactions to a breast cancer diagnosis. To help the 15,000 individuals treated at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) each year, the MUHC Breast Clinic’s Wellness Program offers a range of services specially designed to support breast cancer patients through their cancer journey. Although the coronavirus has complicated many aspects of cancer treatment, Patient Support Coordinator Sophie Blondin made sure that every breast cancer patient continues to receive the support they need.
“When the pandemic struck, I could no longer work in the office, but I couldn’t stop offering services to our breast cancer patients,” says Blondin. “They need support to get through their treatment, and I was determined to provide that support in any way I could.”
Blondin was hired in 2019 thanks to the generosity of donors. A certified coach with years of experience working with cancer patients, she is passionate about offering the Breast Clinic’s Wellness Program to every individual who walks through the clinic’s doors. Her ingenuity and humanity ensure the Wellness Program continues to run during the pandemic.
Blondin got to work adapting the Wellness Program offerings to online Zoom sessions. She also started an email newsletter to help reassure the MUHC’s many breast cancer patients during COVID crisis and offer advice for coping in such an unprecedented situation.
Now, the MUHC’s breast cancer patients have access to myriad resources online, no matter their stage of cancer. Newly-diagnosed patients are invited to attend a five-session series that introduces them to their physicians, the Breast Clinic and the many resources available to them. They also have a session with a psychologist to help them process and cope with their diagnosis.
From the beginning of their cancer journey, patients have access to the services of a nutritionist, exercise physiologist and sex therapist. Generously funded by the CURE Foundation, the Wellness Program’s two nutritionists provide personalized advice and meal plans.
“Breast cancer patients put their trust and lives into someone else’s hands,” says Yamileth Marcano, Clinical Dietician for the Wellness Program. “Proper nutrition has an impact on their recovery, strength and risk of disease recurrence.”
The exercise physiologists help patients remain active during their treatment. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight have been shown to improve outcomes and survival rates for breast cancer patients. The sex therapist helps each patient overcome issues with self-esteem and body image, and offers solutions for intimacy and communications between partners all through their cancer journey. The Breast Clinic’s Wellness Program’s sex therapist is generously funded by the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation, along with a support group to help patients return to active lives.
For patients like Brandi Lee Hicks, these services represent a support system that is sorely needed. The new online format has some unexpected positive impact, in fact: Hicks lives off the island of Montreal, so online sessions save her a lot of travel time. With support from Sophie Blondin and the many staff at the MUHC Breast Clinic’s Wellness Program throughout, Hicks recently completed her breast cancer treatment.
“I don’t know how I would have gotten through all of this without Sophie and the program. Whenever I needed help or had a question, I would email Sophie and she would call me back and lead me in the right direction,” says Hicks.
Thanks to donor generosity and the passion of the Wellness Program’s staff to help others, patients like Brandi are receiving the support they need to overcome this terrible disease.