For Boston Medical Center’s cancer patients, receiving world-class treatment is only part of the equation. They also receive unparalleled support and attention—and this is often just as important as their cancer therapies. For Noreen Strachan-Chedda, it has made all the difference.
Recently, Noreen moved to the US from Jamaica to live with her adult daughter, who is a member of the military. The decision was not easy, as her two young sons and husband remained in her home country. Shortly after moving, Noreen’s daughter received orders to be stationed in Japan. Noreen had to stay behind in a relatively new place where she knew very few people, but was eager to build a life for her family in Boston and worked two taxing jobs to do so.
Despite her long days, Noreen kept her health a priority. One day, while performing a breast self-exam, she noticed a startling change in her left breast. “I was looking in the mirror and it just didn’t look right,” Noreen recalls. “I thought the worst.” Noreen’s primary care physician referred her to BMC for further testing, which unfortunately confirmed her fears: she had triple positive breast cancer. The type, Her2 positive breast cancer, is particularly aggressive compared to other breast cancers. “I thought cancer meant my life was going to end,” Noreen remembers. “I cried a lot, especially because I’m here by myself and I have young children living far away.”
“For breast cancer patients, their care needs to be carefully strung together to make sure everything happens on time. But we also know our patients can’t come to the hospital every day. We don’t take their time for granted, so there’s a lot that goes on in the background to make it as easy as possible for them. It’s that kind of nuanced care that makes a difference.” — Naomi Ko, MD, MPH, AM
Noreen needed to begin chemotherapy right away and her medical team, led by medical oncologist Naomi Ko, MD, MPH, AM, swiftly rallied around her. “Time was of the essence. Noreen’s cancer is aggressive, so she needed treatment right away,” notes Ko. In just a short amount of time, the team ensured she was fully prepared, from working with her health insurance company to efficiently completing pre-treatment tests and procedures. They also made sure an important person would be there as she began treatment: her daughter. A tall order, Ko worked with the military to coordinate her return. “I was making calls and sending letters, doing everything I could so her daughter could come home.” By the second chemotherapy session, Noreen’s daughter was by her side. “Having my daughter there was big,” Noreen says.
Although her daughter’s stay was only temporary, Noreen’s family-like care remained intact, thanks to the staff and providers at BMC’s Cancer Care Center. As she endured a rigorous treatment regimen, Noreen continuously received close, personalized care from everyone she encountered—from the staff at the front desk, to social services, the patient navigators and her doctors and nurses. This played an especially important role in the seamless coordination of care. “For breast cancer patients, their care needs to be carefully strung together to make sure everything happens on time,” explains Ko. “But we also know our patients can’t come to the hospital every day. We don’t take their time for granted, so there’s a lot that goes on in the background to make it as easy as possible for them. It’s that kind of nuanced care that makes a difference.”
Despite their tireless efforts behind the scenes, Noreen’s caregivers never faltered in being a source of emotional support. “Dr. Ko is always going the extra mile, whether it is answering all of my questions or giving me advice,” says Noreen. She also developed a special bond with her chemotherapy nurse, Nancy Garner, RN. “One day I came in and I was feeling really down,” says Noreen. “Nancy gave me a hug and said, ‘Everything is going to be OK.’ She always knows what to say or what I need.” The kind of special treatment and compassion Nancy provides comes from a decades-long career as a nurse. “After so many years, you can tell what a patient needs,” explains Nancy. “I try to put myself in their shoes and ask, ‘what would I be feeling if I were in that chair? What would I need?’” “Nancy is willing to do whatever it takes for our patients,” adds Ko. “She will make small things happen which makes a big difference.”
Noreen inspired Ko and Nancy, too—so much that they felt she was the perfect candidate to be a model in the 2017 Catwalk for BMC Cancer Care. “Noreen has weathered treatment amazingly well, even with terrible side effects,” explains Ko, about their decision to nominate Noreen. “She’s always such a trooper. She worked throughout her treatment which was unbelievable and a testament to her strength. What is so uniquely special about her is that she has so many challenges in her personal life and she perseveres.” “No matter what’s thrown at her, she’s always smiling,” Nancy adds. “She doesn’t ask for anything, and she’s one of the nicest patients.”
“When they first told me I was going to be a patient model, I thought, ‘Not me, no way!’” says Noreen, with a laugh. “But I see this diagnosis as a blessing and the Catwalk as an opportunity for someone to see me and feel encouraged.”