Breast Health Foundation patient navigator, Ntokozo Dludla, recently attended the 9th Annual Navigation and Survivorship Conference in Dallas, Texas and wrote the Oncology Patient Navigator – Certified Generalist Certification examination through The Academy of Oncology Nurse and Patient Navigators (AONN).
Ntokozo Dludla (46) lives in Roodepoort. She is a widow and has two adult children.
The path of change
In 2008, when Ntokozo was diagnosed with breast cancer, she never imagined it would change the direction of her life as it has. Ntokozo ran a successful beauty salon in Durban while raising her two children. She then was diagnosed with duct carcinoma and completed two cycles of chemotherapy at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital.
However, the rest of her family were all living in Johannesburg. Her younger sister, Nthabising, researched and found the support group, Bosom Buddies, run by Breast Health Foundation. She then convinced Ntokozo to rather come have treatment in Johannesburg and join this support group. This made sense to the mother of two as she had no support structure in Durban. So, she decided to relocate to Johannesburg to complete her treatment and was transferred to Helen Joseph Breast Clinic. The rest of her chemotherapy took place at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. Thereafter, she underwent a lumpectomy and radiation.
Ntokozo attended all the Bosom Buddies meetings and appreciated the support, advice and comfort she received. “If it wasn’t for my sister Googling, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I would have stayed in Durban…there were no counsellors or groups like this there. Without the advice I received from Bosom Buddies, it would have been a nightmare for me,” Ntokozo explains.
After completing her treatment in 2009, Ntokozo was planning to go back to Durban. But then she heard Breast Health Foundation was looking for a health educator. She knew how much the group played an imperative role in changing her path, so she applied immediately.
She saw how the other health educators helped patients at Helen Joseph Breast Clinic and witnessed how the Bosom Buddies’ volunteers phoned the newly-diagnosed patients to check up on them. “I thought ‘Wow! If there is an opportunity for me to assist in this way, let me grab it.”
Ntokozo thrived in the position and today she is the head patient navigator. To date she has been working for the foundation the longest.
She upskilled herself by attending new courses and workshops throughout the years, including LifeLine counselling training.
As a patient navigator, she educates, supports and navigates patients from their diagnoses all the way through to survivorship. She assists at the Helen Joseph Breast Clinic on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and talks at educational and awareness events.
“Breast cancer changed me. I realised that life is not about chasing money but rather helping other people. And if God gave me a chance to survive, then why can’t I help other people too?” Ntokozo adds.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in October, you can spot her sporting a funky hairstyle with pink braids.
Ntokozo registered for the Oncology Patient Navigator – Certified Generalist Certification, with Breast Health Foundation as a sponsor.
She had to complete several modules online as a pre-test for registration. The e-learning guide was forwarded to her to study and she wrote the exam on arrival in Texas.
She then attended the three-day AONN conference which she says was so insightful. “I learnt so much and can’t wait to come back home to share my knowledge with my colleagues and implement changes,” she says.
Ntokozo will receive her results in the next month. She thoroughly enjoyed the trip, met several people affiliated with MD Anderson Cancer Center and leaders at AONN. They exchanged info and will collaborate to have a meeting in SA in the future.
If Ntokozo recieves this certification, she will be the only South African patient navigator in the public- and NGO-sector with such accreditation.
Nonetheless, she will continue to help thousands of newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients each year.
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Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. email@example.com