A. Mirabelli, Art Gallery of Ontario, Bake and Be Merry, CT Scan, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hospital for Sick Children, Joni Mitchell, Judith John, Life from both sides now, Matisse, Princess Margaret Hospital, Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas, Tafelmusik, Tina Fey, Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Rehab, Toronto Symphony, Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network
Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,
Welcome to a regular feature of our blog,
‘Afternoon tea with …. people of note’
Today, we’re taking afternoon tea with Judith John, a serial optimist and a passionate patient care advocate. Despite curve balls here and there, Judith is always smiling. Always looking for the best in people. Always finding goodness. And that is why Her Ladyship (that would be me!) is delighted to introduce this amazing lady.
Organizations like the United Way of Toronto and major hospitals like Mount Sinai and the internationally renowned Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) and cultural organizations like Harbourfront and the Art Gallery of Ontario have benefitted from her passion and professionalism. Today, these two traits are in the service of the University Health Network and Sick Kids where Judith consults on patient care – from the patient’s perspective.
As a senior executive in the health care sector and, for the past 14 years, a serious consumer of health care, Judith has seen life from both sides. Diagnosed with a benign, but growing, inoperable brain tumour, Judith embarked on a new journey and plotted the map for looking ‘at life from both sides now’, (with appreciation to Joni Mitchell).
Judith’s favourite tea is English Breakfast with a little milk. Her Ladyship is happy to oblige and soon two cups of tea are poured (digitally!) and our conversation begins.
But first, here’s Judith!
How did you discover you had a brain tumour?
Well, it was a very incidental finding. 14 years ago I was treated for a basal cell cancer and at the end of the treatment my doctor ordered a CT scan to ensure we had eradicated it. We had! But what a shock to discover a tumour in my brain. The tumour was on the pituitary gland; it was benign but it was growing and impacting many sensitive areas. As you saw on the video, I am still on the journey to curb the tumour.
You are very careful to characterize this exercise as a journey.
Yes! It is journey I travel every day, one day at a time. And along the way, I remain very grateful for the excellent health care I continue to receive and for a health system that doesn’t bankrupt you!
What made you become such a passionate advocate for patient care?
I’ve seen health care from both sides – I was a hospital executive at the table working on key metrics to determine successful care and then I put on the blue gown. Those metrics narrow as a patient! The video shares the trigger points and my passion comes from ensuring hospital staff treat the patient as a person, not as a hospital number. I try to help hospitals establish humane pathways to care and recovery because it’s so easy for a patient to get lost in the system.
Are you pleased with the results of your efforts?
Faculties of Medicine in Ontario are going to use the video in the curriculum and 12 Ontario hospitals have made the video mandatory viewing for residents. So yes, I am gratified with the results but there is more to do. All hospitals wrestle with this issue, and I’m pleased with the active commitment demonstrated by the University Health Network (Toronto General, Toronto Western, Princess Margaret and Toronto Rehab) on the issue of patients as partners.
Patients as partners – this is key on your pathway to care and recovery.
Absolutely! Patients must become partners in their healthcare. They must be prepared to have a dialogue with their healthcare providers. They must ask questions and be prepared to question the answers sometimes. Don’t be passive. Health care providers don’t always come forward – whether because of pressure, time, competing demands, or even to avert burnout – but they all go into healthcare because they want to help people, so you should feel comfortable asking for that help. Patients have the right to be heard, to understand what they’re hearing and the right to be involved in their choices.
You have much to be proud of – are you enjoying your role as a patient advocate?
The only way I can make sense of this disappointing detour in my life is to believe that my experience can help others. Along with many life lessons through all this, I do like being a patient advocate.
Another cup of tea, Judith?
Oh yes please, that would be lovely!
How do define downtime?
Reading, watching a classic movie, petting the dogs, walks, time with family.
What is you favourite moment of the day?
I love mornings! It must be the optimist in me.
What is your go to method to cheer yourself up?
Dogs always cheer me up. And fresh flowers.
What skill would you like to learn?
I would like to become more tech savvy – I’m a notorious techno nerd; and I also want to learn to play the piano.
What never fails to make you laugh?
Laughing itself. I adore a good laugh, especially if it’s the result of sharing joke with my daughters. Also Tina Fey always makes me laugh.
How do you make your life less stressful?
I take a deep breath; take pleasure in the moment; and walk, walk, walk. I am annoyingly grateful for the small stuff!
If you can choose any person from history to teach you any topic you want, who would it be a, and what do s/he teach you?
Eleanor Roosevelt because she based her life on a genuine moral foundation and her lesson to me would be how to set goals based on your value system, and not be distracted.
How do you celebrate big moments?
By taking note of the celebration, being with family and friends.
Toronto Symphony or Tegan and Sara?
Toronto Symphony, but truth be told, I prefer Tafelmusik.
Who is your favourite author?
What is your favourite work of art?
The Dance by Matisse.
How would you love to spend a summer day?
On a lake with people I love.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Easy: gelato, as often as possible.
What would you like to have invented?
The rolling suitcase. Or the post it note. I guess I should say something lofty like penicillin.
What is most awe-inspiring country you’ve ever visited?
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
To pay attention. And stand by what you stood for.
What is your favourite season?
What is your workout philosophy?
All things in moderation and keep moving.
What is your workout routine?
Walking, aquafit, Pilates, yoga.
What is your favourite article of clothing?
A pashmina or a cardigan.
Which contemporary celebrity do you admire?
George Clooney – but, alas, he didn’t wait to meet me before getting married!
What are the principal aspects of your personality?
Optimism for sure, a good sense of humour and perspective, insatiable curiosity and open-mindedness, a passionate, commitment to issues and important causes, and an extrovert’s need for wonderful people in my life.
What you appreciate the most in your friends?
Loyalty, open-mindedness, curiosity and humour. And never, ever, apathy!
What would you consider to be your main fault?
I don’t know how to say no; I care too much about certain things, take them very personally, and am often on a soapbox trying to convince others that what I believe matters, matters!
What is your favourite food?
I’m known as the salad queen! Tomatoes and strawberries at the top of the list.
What are three little know facts about you?
I make the world’s best cheesecake. I was a cheerleader in school and that’s been my profession, too. I am a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society (oldest honour society in the US for academic achievement).
What do you bring on a long light to make yourself comfortable?
Enough reading material and a soft pashmina.
When on vacation, do you focus on luxury, adventure or relaxation?
Never luxury! I like to pack a lot into a vacation – I want to see everything, walk through towns and villages, visit museums and stately homes. Not really a lounge on the beach person: I don’t want to miss anything.
What is the most amazing thing you have ever done?
Having two beautiful daughters.
What is your current hobby?
Getting through all this without a whine. Writing.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Keep things in perspective, pay attention to the moments, and don’t be so hard on yourself.
How do you indulge your inner kid?
Very simple – I spend time with non judgmental dogs and make friends with younger people.
Her Ladyship has poured (digitally!) the final cups of tea and she raises her cup in a toast to this very caring, wonderfully courageous and outrageously fun lady.