Jaya James shares her story as a patient at GGH

“You’re most likely experiencing some mild shock right now, so don’t worry about remembering all these details today. We’ll schedule another appointment to go through all of this with you again.”

This is part of a conversation Jaya James recalls having with her surgeon at Guelph General Hospital. It was at a follow-up appointment after a surgery to remove skin tags from her milk ducts – she was not at all expecting to hear the words “you have breast cancer.”

A nurse was there too. She gently rubbed Jaya’s back and offered her a glass of orange juice to help comfort her and treat the shock she was experiencing.

“Nothing brings out more visceral emotions like when your health is at risk and you’re being asked to decide between life preservation and life-long consequences” Jaya explained.

Because Jaya was only 35 years old when she was diagnosed she was considered an “outlier” and standard protocols and treatment options weren’t as easy to determine.

Her oncologist was able to teleconference with top specialists across the country to discuss options and determine the best treatment course, and to gain a greater understanding of the associated risks and how they might impact someone of Jaya’s young age, such as the long-term impact of significant loss of bone density.

Jaya’s description of her overall care is of a highly competent healthcare team that did their job to save her life. Most notably, she describes the care she received as compassionate. “I can’t even count the number of healthcare providers I encountered along the way – I had a primary and secondary oncologist, a surgeon, many nurses helped administer my treatments, and radiologists and technologists who performed tests that diagnosed and monitored my cancer and the side effects of the treatments. There was a lot of space for a bad interaction to occur, but I only recall exceptionally compassionate care at every step of the way.”

Jaya’s emotions still run high when she retells her experience, however, her gratitude lifts up even higher as she reflects on the care and support she received from her healthcare team. “The staff do an incredible job at walking with you through all the stuff that is emotionally overwhelming – they just do it really well” said Jaya.

She recalls a healthcare team who saw her and treated her as a person not a patient, taking time to slow down to respond to her needs and provide emotional support no matter how busy they were. They noticed a period when she was experiencing depression and supported her through it.

The most significant gesture of compassion though was at the very onset of her diagnosis. Jaya was looking forward to a vacation to PEI that she had planned for some time, and it happened to fall just weeks after her first surgery, the one through which her cancer was detected. While it was her oncologist’s and surgeon’s preference to schedule her mastectomy as soon as possible, they understood how important the trip was to Jaya and scheduled her surgery and all her pre-op appointments to take place immediately after her return.

In addition, the nurses spent extra time teaching Jaya how to care for her wound while she was away, and coordinated with a Hospital in PEI to ensure she continued to receive the follow-up care she needed.

It’s been five years since Jaya was diagnosed. She is now cancer-free, and “in theory” part of the normal population in terms of breast-cancer risk, but for the rest of her life Jaya will come to GGH for an annual mammogram and Bone Mineral Densitometry study.

Jaya’s gratitude extends beyond that which she expresses towards her healthcare team – she is also thankful to live in a supportive community and for all those who support the Hospital.

“We can never forget how lucky we are – we need to continue to support our community services to preserve all that we have.”

Jaya James, cancer-free, and making an impact in her community as Executive Director of Lakeside HOPE House (photo taken by Scott MacQuarrie, Ward 1 Studios)