PAPHR looking for volunteers to help cancer patients

Jodi Schellenberg
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When diagnosed with cancer, many people are confused about where to find information and support.

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The Prince Albert Parkland Health Region is working on a new Peer Navigators initiative with the Canadian Cancer Society to help newly diagnosed cancer patients.

“The whole goal of this program is to ensure that newly diagnosed cancer patients receive all the necessary resources they need to make decisions when they are diagnosed with cancer and going through their cancer journey,” director of volunteer services for PAPHR Sonya Jahn said. “This new initiative is brand new to Saskatchewan. It is brand new to Canada.”

Jahn said the initiative seemed like a good fit for the health region.

“It is something that was initially done in British Columbia and because we have a wonderful, strong volunteer program within the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region, it seemed to be a very good fit to have it initiated in our health region,” Jahn said. “Once we establish it within our health region then it will roll out to Saskatoon, Regina and some of the other health regions. It is basically a pilot project right now.”

The program will have volunteers supporting newly diagnosed cancer patients when they first come into the Victoria Hospital for treatment, she said.

“What the volunteer will do, first of all they will meet and greet that patient at the front entrance of the hospital and they will escort them to the chemo unit for their first appointment and basically will stay with them and follow up with a couple of additional phone calls just to see how they are doing,” Jahn said. “Sometimes people do not realize all the resources that are out there when this is something that is a brand new experience for a patient.”

The volunteers have to go through a one-day training session to learn how to communicate with the patients.

“Obviously when you are first diagnosed with cancer, it can be very scary and you may not hear all the other information you are given when you are first diagnosed with cancer,” Jahn said. “We want to ensure that patients have all the necessary information and resources to make informed decisions when they are going through their cancer journey.”

They are currently looking for more volunteers for the program, she explained.

“We have some volunteers on board and we are in need of quite a few more volunteers,” Jahn said. “Initially when this initiative began we were told we would receive between four and five referrals per month -- we actually received 16 referrals in six weeks.

“The need is really great and as a result the volunteer need is really great,” she added. “We want to try to bring more people on board to be able to support this very necessary and very needed initiative.”

Anyone is able to volunteer, whether they have experience volunteering or not.

“I think ideally it would be nice to have a cancer survivor because they have been through the process and they know what to expect and they are experienced -- they have already gone through the journey,” Jahn said. “They are a good candidate to be a volunteer.”

They would love to have a cancer survivor, she said, someone who has been cancer free for a couple of years and feeling well enough to help someone else.

Another person that may be a good candidate would be “someone that was a caregiver of someone that had cancer,” she said.

Although someone who has experience with cancer patients would be ideal, Jahn said anyone is eligible.

“There might be other folks in the community as well who might be willing to give a helping hand with this as well,” Jahn said. “Training is very important. We make sure that our volunteers are properly trained before they begin this volunteer experience because you want to be able to have the necessary skills and knowledge ahead of time to be able to support these patients.”

The volunteers who are already part of the program have been enjoying he experience, she said.

“The volunteers that have been involved in the program have found it very rewarding,” Jahn said. “They have been doing an excellent job and I am so proud of peer navigator volunteers.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can call volunteer services at 306-765-6010 or visit the website

“We would love an opportunity to be able to speak with them and share a little more information about the program and get them involved,” Jahn said. “As someone who has been in my field and my job for quite a number of years, I realize this is a much needed program and in order for it to succeed we need to have a greater number of volunteers in order to support this program in order for it to succeed.”

Organizations: Canadian Cancer Society, Victoria Hospital

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Canada, British Columbia Saskatoon

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