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Breast cancer at 22: Why Josee is thankful for her physician assistant

​​​​​Image of Josee in France
Josee Daoust, 22, was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2015. Here, she’s pictured vacationing in France in May 2014, before her diagnosis. (Photo: Josee Daoust)

When Josee Daoust first discovered a lump on her breast, she was completing her teaching certification at Queen's University in Kingston.

She was 22-years-old.

"Given my age, I didn't think it would be anything serious," says Josee. "But my housemates insisted I get it checked out."

On Jan. 16, 2015, Josee was diagnosed with breast cancer and on Feb. 3 underwent a lumpectomy, a surgery to remove the tumour.

Fortunately, Josee was able to graduate from Teacher's College with her peers, and near the end of her semester in April, began chemotherapy at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

In September, Josee started radiation therapy – which is when she met Physician Assistant, Maitry Patel, who she describes as "one of the most – if not, the most knowledgeable, kind, and caring individuals on her medical team."

Josee at Princess Margaret
Nov. 27 is National Physician Assistant Day – thank you to all of our PAs at UHN! (Photo: Dana Hiraldo-Santos)

National Physician Assistant Day

Nov. 27 is National Physician Assistant (PA) Day, which celebrates an important field that began 40 years ago in the Canadian Armed Forces, and was introduced into the Canadian public healthcare system 14 years ago in Manitoba – eight years ago in Ontario.

Today, there are approximately 500 PAs practicing in Canada, roughly 300 of which are practicing in Ontario.

Dr. Tom Waddell, Head, Division of Thoracic Surgery, UHN, describes the important role of PAs within the interdisciplinary team, especially in a fast-paced environment.

"Yousra Hasnain, our Thoracic Surgical Oncology PA, has made a huge difference on the Thoracic Service, enhancing quality of care and patient safety by ensuring important details are never overlooked in the hustle and bustle of our busy service," says Dr. Waddell.

"Yousra has been a wonderful, hard-working partner, a model of efficiency, and is always willing‎ to pitch in when the team needs 'all hands on deck'."

Josee at Princess Margaret
One year after her trip to France, Josee attends her third chemotherapy session at the Princess Margaret in May 2015. (Photo: Josee Daoust)

'She treated me like a person, not simply a sick patient'

During her radiation therapy treatment, Josee describes the meaningful relationship she formed with Maitry.

"Maitry always encouraged me to ask all of my questions – no matter how silly I felt they might be. She relayed everything in lay terms, made medical information easy to understand, and made every one of my questions feel like a valid one," remembers Josee.

"She treated me like a person, and not simply a sick patient. I am incredibly grateful that I had a Physician Assistant like Maitry as part of my medical team."

Physician assistants act as an extension of their supervising physicians, working with interdisciplinary care teams to improve patient access in high need areas including emergency medicine and primary care.

 "I always wanted to work in healthcare. When I found out about this new role, it was exciting and intriguing," says Maitry.

"I thoroughly enjoy every day of my work because I get to work alongside brilliant individuals who not only teach me how to be a good healthcare professional, but also a compassionate one."

Physician Assistants impacting patients and healthcare teams across UHN

Dr. Anil Chopra, Head and Medical Director, Emergency Medicine at UHN, describes the value of Sahand Ensafi, the first PA to join the Emergency Department team at Toronto Western.

"Sahand's strong clinical and communication skills have advanced the provision of timely, high-quality care for our patients," says Dr. Chopra.

"He effortlessly works with our interprofessional team and has helped to reduce our patient wait times. Our physician and non-physician group cannot speak more highly of Sahand and his role in our EDs."

The specific duties of the PA vary depending on the supervising physician's area of practice – responsibilities may include: conducting patient interviews, taking medical histories and performing physical examinations.

Dr. Santhosh Thyagu, Hematologist at the Princess Margaret, adds that PAs also contribute to the high quality of care in acute care clinics.

For example, Dr. Thyagu highlights the value Physician Assistant Jessica Danquah brings to the REACH clinic at the Princess Margaret, which offers ER-like diagnostic and treatment capabilities – and rapid access to subspecialty medical assessment and care.

"To say Jessica has been a significant addition to our program would simply be an understatement. This high acuity clinic deals with cancer-related medical issues, code medical emergencies as well as urgent invasive bedside procedures," says Dr. Thyagu.

"Having Jess in the clinic has helped me tremendously. Her advanced patient assessment skills, clinical judgment and procedural proficiency are a huge asset assisting me to manage multiple acutely ill patients on a daily basis."

Josee's comeback: Cancer-free and planning her future

Josee completed her last radiation treatment on Oct. 28. Today, she is cancer-free.

This month, she will start tutoring and hopes to return to the classroom in January to teach French.

Special thanks to all Physician Assistants at UHN that enable patients like Josee to feel supported, cared for and educated throughout their patient experience:

  • Leslie St. Jacques - Division of Neurosurgery
  • Jessica Danquah - REACH Clinic
  • Sahand Ensafi - Emergency Department
  • Yousra Hasnain - Division of Thoracic Surgery
  • Dhiral Kot - Division of Urology Surgery
  • Krista Slavinski, Kwaku Gyimah, Christopher Body - Division of General Surgery
  • Kamshad Touri - General Internal Medicine
  • Maitry Patel - Department of Radiation Oncology
  • Nicolette Burchell - Department of Gynecology Oncology
  • Fatemah Hussain - Division of Vascular Surgery
  • Eddie Yeung - Multi-organ Transplant Program

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