Learner Profile: Erika’s journey comes full circle at LRCP

Erika Tratjnek

July 25, 2023

When Erika Tratjnek was hired to work at London Health Sciences Centre, life came full circle. Five years after she entered the London Regional Cancer Program (LRCP) as a patient, she arrived for her first day as an Ambulatory Clerk at the LRCP.

A life-changing discovery

In April 2017, Erika came home from work and noticed a large mass in her right inguinal area. A short time later, after a visit to the Emergency Department at Victoria Hospital, she was diagnosed with Stage 3B Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma and admitted to the London Regional Cancer Program (LRCP).

“Growing up, I thought I was invincible,” she explained. “I didn’t break a single bone in my body and I was never seriously ill, and then out of nowhere, I was told not by one or two doctors, but by five, that if I didn’t go to the hospital when I did, I would not be sitting here now.”

The cancer later progressed to Stage 4 and Erika would require six months of chemotherapy as well as radiation therapy. Thanks to early detection and a rigorous schedule of treatments, she was declared in remission and discharged from the LRCP in January 2022.

Prior to her diagnosis, Erika had worked in retail, and her cancer treatments made a return to her previous job difficult. She began to consider different career options and drew on her personal experience for inspiration. In the same month she was discharged as a patient from the cancer clinic, she entered the Office Administration for Health Services program at Fanshawe College.

A new career path

As a patient, Erika had taken control of her own appointments, and her attention to detail through the process helped make for a smooth transition into her new career.

“When I was going to Fanshawe, I probably learned roughly 20 per cent new material,” she said. “Everything else was stuff that I had to learn myself as a cancer patient – insurance forms, calling doctors, organizing multiple appointments – that was all stuff I did for me.”

To conclude the 18-month program, each student is required to fulfill a four-week placement in the field. Students can make requests for a preferred site, and Erika was able to secure a position at her first choice – the London Regional Cancer Program.

“When I got the placement here, I was shocked,” she recalled. “When I started, I was offered a tour of the clinic, and I said ‘no need, I’m an ex-patient here, I know where things are.’”

It didn’t take long before Erika noticed a stark difference from her past jobs.

“My background was entirely customer service-based jobs,” she explained. “The big difference is really just the understanding – the level of respect and care from my coworkers. The highlight for me was just being around people who understood what I’ve been through.”

A new beginning at LHSC

Towards the conclusion of her placement, Erika had the opportunity to interview for an open position with the LRCP team. Five years after she was admitted to the clinic as a patient, she returned for her first day of work as a full-time Ambulatory Clerk.

“I got hired for the role I fulfilled during my placement, and that’s working the main reception desk at the London Regional Cancer Program,” she said. “To be honest, I somewhat still struggle to grasp that I have this opportunity. I’ve always been a hard worker and working at the LRCP was a dream of mine, so I figured I would have to work elsewhere and work towards that.”

In her new role, she is looking forward to the impact she can have on other young people diagnosed with cancer, and the encouragement she can offer to everyone around her.

“I feel like LHSC is somewhere I can do good,” she said. “The way I look now, a lot of people are surprised to find that I am a cancer survivor. When I was a patient here, there weren’t many people around my age that I could see. I’m in a position where I went through something pretty life-changing, and if I can take that sort of energy and apply it to go help someone else, that’s 100 per cent okay with me.”