Aging, chronic illness, and caregiving left Sylvia feeling invisible. It wasn’t until she began participating in the Nav-CARE program did she start to feel encouraged, once again. “I’ve been helping others, ever since I was very young, that was a way of life… you helped people. And then I found myself in a position where I was asking for help but I didn’t want to be dragging anybody down. So, it leaves you feeling encouraged when somebody comes to your home and says, “How do you feel and why,” and you’re able to answer the question honestly. It makes you feel important.” Sylvia tried talking to her family doctor but quickly learned that with a one or two question limit at every visit, her most immediate health needs took precedence, leaving her many other needs unmet. This often left her feeling frustrated and overwhelmed as she tried to navigate the system for both herself and her husband. These negative feelings were compounded by the rurality of her living situation which often made it challenging for her to access support and resources. Furthermore, Sylvia worried about the burden that her and her husband’s ill health placed on her adult daughter who lived in a neighbouring community. “She was under a lot of stress because of us. She has her own family and job to worry about”. Some of the support that Sylvia needed but struggled getting on her own included information on residential housing options, setting up respite care for her husband when she was sick, understanding medication side effects, and connecting with in-home support services. While the volunteer navigator was always willing and able to find her the information she requested, it was the compassionate, emotional support of the navigator that Sylvia valued the most. The volunteer listened, understood her situation, and validated her feelings. “I didn’t feel that she was going to be too surprised with any of our questions so I was free to ask her anything, that’s what I really appreciated about Nav-CARE”.
Joe describes himself as very enthusiastic about having the support of a volunteer navigator over the course of a year. It was the tailoring of services based on his particular needs that Joe praised when asked to share what he appreciated most about the Nav-CARE program. While his health had been fairly stable over the course of his participation in Nav-CARE, there were times when he was recovering from cancer treatments when he and his wife found themselves needing assistance in their home. Not having family nearby to call on, the volunteer navigator was able to connect them to in-home services including cooking, cleaning and carpentry. Another perk of the program that Joe found extremely beneficial was the ability of the navigator to research topics for him and to provide information about resources he may need down the road as his illness advances, such as hospice. But what he really came to value was the “intangible” support offered at each and every visit when he opened up to the navigator about his thoughts and feelings in relation to living with a life-limiting illness. “It’s nice to have the support of somebody who I could complain to or tell my full situation to without feeling I was burdening a friend.” Joe emphasized that the positive connection he was able to establish with the navigator was facilitated by the visits being conducted in his home. For him it was reassuring to know that the navigator was able to see where and how he lived. This, Joe felt, gave a more complete picture of his needs in light of his home, health and community. Knowing that somebody was “ready and willing to go to bat” for him and who had a complete understanding of his circumstances was, according to Joe, very comforting.
Clara’s quality of life was severely impacted when her health took a turn for the worse. Chronic, debilitating pain left Clara with many unmet needs including feeling isolated and overwhelmed. Other than receiving support from a mental health worker, Clara did not qualify for any other health services in her rural community where she lived alone. Unable to find the energy to even make phone calls, Clara described the assistance of the volunteer navigator as crucial at a time when she felt increasingly frustrated trying to find and connect herself to local resources. When Clara first joined the Nav-CARE program she described herself as having no energy and felt strongly that her needs weren’t being taken seriously. “The volunteer navigator helped me through some problems when I was really running out of steam. She was able to handle people on the phone for me. You know, it was just a really nice thing because I just wasn’t capable of it anymore especially when somebody doesn’t want to listen or hear what I have to say, which happens a lot.” In addition to advocating on Clara’s behalf when needed, the volunteer navigator assisted her in creating an advance care plan. Having a plan was really important to Clara but her health status prevented her gathering information and documenting her wishes. According to Clara, over the course of the regular in-home visits with the volunteer navigator she was able to get her “life in order”. From assisting Clara to get signed up with the Memorial Society, gathering information on organ donation, and connecting her to a funeral home, the volunteer navigator was able to work with her to put together an advance care plan. Clara identified this support as most valuable as it not only allowed her to prepare for the future but it helped her to “stay grounded” knowing that she had a reliable, non-judgmental advocate working on her behalf.
Bob was an elderly man who lived with Parkinson’s and a disability that left him with limited use of one of his hands and unable to work. Bob also suffered from depression and just prior to joining the Nav-CARE program, Bob’s wife died from cancer. Most of Bob’s family did not live in the same community. Bob saw an ad in the paper for Nav-CARE and felt that the service that could be of benefit to him since he often felt alone and unsupported. Over the course of a year on the program, Bob received regular visits by a volunteer navigator both in his home and by phone. He looked forward to each and every visit. When Bob was asked how the service benefited him, he replied “The volunteer kept me company. She helped me just by talking to me. I think I would have gone into a very deep depression had I not been a part of the service”. Based on his own experiences with Nav-CARE, Bob felt strongly that the program would be beneficial to anyone who is limited by health issues and could use extra care even if it is just talking about their difficulties with a friendly volunteer.
Monica is in her 60’s and has advanced cancer. She lives at home with her husband who also has a life-limiting illness. Although Monica was still able to manage day-to-day living without requiring much support, the medications were making it increasingly more difficult for her to “think straight”. Adding to the uneasiness brought on by her diagnosis was her frustration with the patchy nature of healthcare services in rural community where she lived. Anticipating a decline in her health, Monica joined the Nav-CARE program hoping that a volunteer navigator would be able to support her in her journey. In particular, she was hoping that the Nav-CARE program would fill a void since she did not have family who lived nearby. When reflecting on her time with the program, Monica was pleased with the professionalism of the volunteer navigator. “I had a question about one of my therapies and the volunteer navigator researched the topic for me and consulted with professionals in that field and she was able to get me the information I needed to make an informed decision.” Furthermore, despite not using the services of the volunteer navigator to the full extent that she had anticipated because her health remained stable, Monica still felt strongly that the safety net provided by Nav-CARE was instrumental in relieving much of her worry and anxiety. “It was just knowing that there was somebody there that I could call who would help if I needed help, just knowing, not that I ever had to ask for it but just knowing that it was there if I needed it was very, very comforting for me.”
“This service was a 10/10”, says Peter. “It was very important to me. Just having somebody to talk to, someone that you trust.” At the time Peter joined Nav-CARE he was in his late 80’s and living on a rural property outside of town with his wife. He struggled with several health issues that impacted his quality of life including a history of cancer, mobility issues, and a pace maker. Peter was taking a lot of medication that he found challenging to keep track of. Some of these medications caused additional health challenges, like increased bleeding, that were at times hard for him to manage. Living at home had become increasingly burdensome, especially living in a rural area where services were either not available or difficult to access. As “pensioners” he felt overwhelmed at the financial implications of both him and his wife moving into supportive housing in a different community. Being a part of the Nav-CARE program for a year was “a great help for us”, explains Peter. “The volunteer navigator knew how to get the information we needed, she knew what she was doing. This is what stood out for me about being a part of Nav-CARE”. Having someone come to his home to help him and his wife was what made this program so ideal for Peter. “I could ask the neighbours for help but my needs were too personal”. With the volunteer navigator, Peter was able to open up about “different things”. “You could ask the volunteer navigator questions that you couldn’t go and ask the neighbours or friends about.” For example, the volunteer navigator helped him and his wife explore other housing options since Peter worried about aging in a rural area with only one family member around to help. He understood the extra burden this put on his adult daughter who also had her own family and job to balance. The volunteer navigator also helped Peter sort through his medications and the information sheets that come with each of them about possible side effects. She also suggested ways that Peter could build up his physical strength. “Most times, she just came and spent time with us just see how we were feeling and what, if anything, we were finding difficult”, says Peter. “I think she stayed longer than she was supposed to”, Peter chuckles, and proudly declares that he never cancelled an appointment while on the service. “I don’t know how we’re gonna do it now that the program has ended. But I’d like to keep on going, you know. Or have somebody like them to help us.”