Cancer Screening Success in Wabaseemoong First Nation

Screen for Life Coach
The Screen for Life Coach navigating the difficult entry into Wabaseemoong First Nation to offer cancer screening to the community members.

Throughout the summer months, the Screen for Life Coach travels to over 75 different locations across Northwestern Ontario, and each year the Coach expands its reach by increasing the number of communities it offers services in, making cancer screening more accessible to under-screened areas.

One of the biggest success stories from the Coach’s 2019 travel season comes from Wabaseemoong First Nation, resulting in 17 screening tests being completed.

The Screen for Life Coach is a mobile cancer screening service that travels across Northwestern Ontario, enhancing access to cancer screening services. The Coach, which is a part of Prevention and Screening Services at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, offers breast, cervical and colon cancer screening.

A high level of organization is needed when new screening locations are added to the Coach’s busy travel schedule. A new community visit could include navigating difficult roads, finding parking for the 40-foot vehicle, and engaging community members, while building trust and relationships. Even though there are many challenges, the outcome is highly rewarding.

Much of the success in Wabaseemoong First Nation can be credited to Tobi Letander-Diaz, Community Health Representative. Diaz acted as a community champion by directly engaging with her community members and providing them with the education about the importance of cancer screening. Her on-the-ground approach improved communication and allowed the information to come from a trusted and known source within the community. Diaz even went the extra mile –literally! She provided transportation to and from the Coach for any community member who needed a ride.

“Taking the time to explain each of the screening tests in a non-clinical way is a beneficial step to ensure people understand what would be happening when they stepped on board the Coach,” explained Diaz. “I also try and use humour when talking to community members in order to make cancer screening less intimidating and more approachable.”

In previous years, community members from Wabaseemoong had to travel to Kenora to access cancer screening services. This travel was a barrier for many people. Without Diaz’s support, and the commitment from the Coach, many community members would not have received cancer screening. Diaz demonstrates leadership by building relationships within her community, and committing to make sure people were able to book and complete their cancer screening appointments.

Regular cancer screening can detect cancer in its early stages, when it is less likely to have spread and it’s easier to treat. In Ontario, the cancer screening guidelines for average risk people are as follows:

  • Breast cancer screening with a mammogram for women 50 to 74 years of age every two years
  • Cervical cancer screening with a Pap test for women 21 to 69 years of age, who have ever been sexually active, every three years
  • Colon cancer screening with a take-home fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit for men and women 50 to 74 years of age every two years

Services on the coach are free, and no referral is required to access the three cancer screening tests. The Coach travels from Wawa to the Manitoba border, and everywhere in between, including many Indigenous communities. To book an appointment on the Coach, call (807) 684-7777 or 1-800-461-7031. To view the Coach’s full travel schedule, visit