Alberta Cancer Foundation

On the Journey Together

By: Jaelyn Molyneux

Photograph of Lucy Laboucan by Tanya Sedore.

“Hi, I’m Lucy. I’m from Fox Lake.”

If you’re an Indigenous person living with cancer, hearing that from a member of your cancer-support team can make a world of difference.

Lucy Laboucan is a registered nurse, Indigenous Cancer Patient Navigator and member of the Little Red River Cree Nation. Indigenous Cancer Patient Navigators help guide Indigenous cancer patients through the diagnosis and treatment process and connect them with whatever support they might need, for as long as they need. Laboucan, whose background is in public, home care and community nursing, is one of three Indigenous navigators in Alberta. She looks after patients in the north — and where she is from matters.

“When I introduce myself, I always let clients know my name and where I’m from. I also sometimes provide my parents’ names,” says Laboucan. “That connection makes a difference, especially for older clients. They want to know where you are from and who you are from.”

Fox Lake is a close-knit community and home to the Little Red River Cree Nation. In the summer, access is by air and in the winter by ice roads. It’s hundreds of kilometres away from the Grande Prairie Cancer Centre, where Laboucan is based. She understands the unease and anxiety that comes with the unknown and being far away from home.

“I always try to put myself in their position and imagine what to expect,” says Laboucan. While some of her patients come from bigger towns or cities, many come from reserves and have never left their community.

“It’s foreign for them all around, whether it’s the health-care system or the town or the new diagnosis,” she says. “It can be very scary, especially when you hear the word ‘cancer.’”

Just as each person is different, the way Laboucan meets her clients varies. It could be through a referral from another navigator, or a doctor or nurse. Perhaps the person reaches out to her directly. Sometimes she sees them in the hallway, sits with them and tells them about the Indigenous Cancer Patient Navigator Program.

Laboucan gets to know each person to understand where they are coming from and what support they might need. For some, it’s just a friendly face and the knowledge that she is available if they need to reach out. For others, it’s much more.

“For new clients, navigating the health-care system in general can be challenging,” says Laboucan. Her early conversations with patients include explaining the roles of the health-care teams, reviewing health coverage — which can vary depending on status — and ensuring clients have email and voicemail set up. For patients, this guidance can be a huge relief.

Laboucan also makes sure her patients have accurate information about their disease, and she connects them with specialists and helps manage expectations. She builds a rapport. From there, she’ll see if they are currently connected with a Healer, Knowledge Keeper or Elder. If not, she’ll help arrange that.

Cancer comes with lots of meetings, appointments and information — and it can be overwhelming. Laboucan can sit in on appointments to advocate and support, or to just be there.

“Sometimes, patients aren’t able to listen or focus,” she says. “I am that extra set of eyes and ears in an appointment. I’ll just be present. I can pick up if a client isn’t sure…I’ll ask questions for them and make sure they understand before the appointment is over.”

Photograph of Lucy Laboucan by Tanya Sedore.

Laboucan is fluent in Cree and offers translation so that a patient has the added comfort of hearing information in their own language.

All along the cancer journey, Laboucan checks in with her patients and makes sure they know she is there for them. She asks how they are doing physically, if they have any pain and, if so, how they are handling it. She checks if they are eating. “I’m a friendly face and a constant on their team,” she says. “I’ll follow them along as long as they need me.”

Laboucan knows these patients and their communities, and she cares deeply about them.

“It’s my passion. I went to school for nursing to work with Indigenous people. I’m living my passion everyday.”