Roberta Livingstone

North Bay, Ontario
Ontario Health Study participant since January 2012

What do you think are the most important issues facing the health of Canadians?

Caring for seniors, either at home or in a long-term care residence.

As a caregiver myself, I know how important it is to help people live independently where ever and however possible.

Elder abuse is also an issue and I think we need to be providing more social opportunities and personal connections to seniors.

Why did you decide to get involved with the Ontario Health Study?

My husband lives with post-polio syndrome and has lots of interactions with the health care system. A hospital bed has replaced the couch in our living room, but it’s a way for him to be independent.

Do you have any personal experience with cancer and/or other chronic diseases?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer survivor when I was 66 years old. It was the smallest tumour possible to be detected and I decided to have my right breast removed. I woke up after surgery and thought, breast gone, cancer gone. I was happy that I didn’t need radiation or chemotherapy.

Now at age 72, I have regular check-ups to confirm I remain cancer free.

My husband’s sister had a hereditary form of breast cancer, but she was the first in the family to have it, or “patient one” according to her health-care team. She’s joked that her breast tissue has travelled more than she has.

I’m concerned about my daughter who’s too young for a mammogram as the program covers women over age fifty, but knowing this history, we’ve encouraged many members of our family to get tested and stay vigilant.

If there was one thing you could change about health care in your community, what would it be?

Living in a town of 50,000 people, I know we can’t attract and keep the number one doctors and specialists for everything.

That’s why it’s so important to have good supports in place for people living in rural communities. For example, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) opened and is training doctors in Northern Ontario with the hope they’ll work in the north of the province. My doctor was trained at the NOSM and her office has a walk-in clinic that books 15-minute emergency appointments in addition to the regular appointments.

My pharmacist is also a key member of my care team. He knows the variety of medications I take, how I can react funny to some medications, and he goes the extra mile to make sure I know what to look out for, what steps to take, and even delivers medications to my house when I can’t get to the pharmacy.

Did you learn anything new about yourself after participating in this study?

The Ontario Health Study surveys made me think about my health differently. I’d read a question and think, oh that is important, and it opened the lines of communication with my doctor.

Often we don’t want to bother people, but it’s important to tell your doctor about small, oddball symptoms that maybe you don’t think are connected. The more information the doctor has about you, the better.

What would you say to another Canadian who’s thinking about getting involved in Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project?

Knowledge is power. The more knowledgeable people are, the more effective treatments can be. This applies both to patients who want to learn more about their health and their care, and also to researchers: the bigger the database, the better the research.

It’s nice to be involved [in the project] and help future generations. Who knows, maybe my great-grandchildren will benefit from new knowledge about a shared gene.