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Jensen Gregory

New faces – and important changes – at Cape Breton Cancer Centre

New faces are becoming familiar faces at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre. It was just over a year ago* that Dr. John Jensen became Medical Director. He was joined several months later by Ms. Connie Gregory, the new Director of Cancer and Palliative Services.

Dr. Jensen, a medical oncologist, tried to retire twice and both times found himself back at the Cancer Centre. Most recently, he notes, a staff shortage drew him out of retirement and into his new job. “Originally it was supposed to be short term, but I’m still here – and enjoying the work immensely,” he says. “We have made a lot of important changes in the past year.”

This includes enhancing follow-up care of patients who have completed their treatment. “We’ve been working to formalize followup care and develop a plan to support patients in their return to the community,” Dr. Jensen says. “We’ve been successfully discharging patients to their family doctors for followup care since March 2011.This is the norm in most cancer centres.”

Two new oncologists have also been hired, and new treatment policies in the cancer clinic are being developed. “These are largely protocols that provide direction on such topics as how to deal with consults and routine treatment issues in a timely fashion,” explains Dr. Jensen. “There are benefits for both patients and health professionals in developing and implementing consistent processes for routine care.”

For Ms. Gregory, assuming the role of Director of Cancer and Palliative Services has been both personally and professionally satisfying. A graduate of Acadia University, St. Francis University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, and St. Rita’s Hospital School of Nursing, Connie has practiced in a variety of settings from maternal-child to long-term care. She is also a cancer survivor.

“In 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I entered the cancer journey as a patient and underwent treatment. I was so impressed, I thought if I ever have an opportunity I will be involved in cancer care,” she says.

“As an administrative director, a health care professional, and a former cancer patient, I have a unique perspective, which helps me in juggling the many priorities of my current role.” she adds.

In her new position, Ms. Gregory oversees both palliative care services as well as cancer care services. She’s also working hard with her team to get screening numbers up so cancer can be caught earlier for many Cape Bretoners. “Our plate is full,” she says, “but we have tremendous support from the community as well as our partners, which include local hospice societies, and Cancer Care Nova Scotia.”

One challenge they face is a shortage of qualified personnel. Dr. Jensen acknowledges that they work within the current fiscal reality and have six oncologists when their workload would benefit from two more. “This means we need to be creative about doing things differently and more efficiently,” says Dr. Jensen.”

The demands for cancer service will grow as the population ages, he adds. “There has been a steady increase in patients over the last few years. As well, treatment is getting more complex and more costly.”

Many younger Cape Bretoners have also left the island to live and work elsewhere, which presents its own challenges, notes Ms Gregory. “Patients don’t necessarily have the extended family support they once had, and we’re very aware of that.”

The challenges are part of the job, and the job – for both Dr. Jensen and Ms. Gregory – is very gratifying. “It’s very rewarding because we are making a difference for the cancer patients we serve,” says Connie. “It makes the job uplifting.”

For Dr. Jensen, whose time is divided between patient care and administrative duties, the rewards of being an oncologist, in particular, are “astonishing.” “You can always spend time with patients. I learn from them, and they give me strength. They are a blessing.”