Patient navigator helps Polish cancer survivor thrive

Patient navigator helps Polish cancer survivor thrive

If you meet someone else who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you have a connection, unlike most others. Breast cancer survivors call it a “sisterhood.” That’s the relationship Malgorzata Cieslak and Danuta Wojtowicz share.

In January of this year, Danuta was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 45. In a few short months, she has had a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and is now beginning her 28 sessions of radiation. Malgorzata has been with her every step of the way—from the first biopsy, through multiple surgeries, for each chemotherapy session and every physician appointment.

“It’s like we just click,” says Malgorzata Cieslak. “Two strangers become one. Her life is my life.”

Malgorzata has become Danuta’s guide through the complex world of health care and medical lingo. Danuta is far from her Jaslo home, in southeastern Poland. An immigrant to the United States, she speaks no English, only Polish. As Advocate Lutheran General Hospital’s Polish patient navigator, Malgorzata knows the breast cancer journey all too well.

Malgorzata is also a breast cancer survivor. It has been five years since her diagnosis. The two have a bond that only breast cancer survivors can fully understand. Along with her husband and two children, Danuta views Malgorzata as one of her biggest supporters.

“She has helped me get through it,” Danuta says. “She was not just a support through interpretation—but also through all of the emotional turmoil.”

“We have a professional relationship, but it is also an intimate one,” says Malgorzata.  “I know everything about her history from the inside out and have shared my story with her as well.”

Polish physicians have noted that their female Polish patients appear less likely to undergo routine exams and mammography than their average patients. Danuta and Malgorzata agree that there is a stigma in the Polish culture about cancer and  discussion of a breast cancer diagnosis. Danuta believes, however, that speaking out will help other women.

“Danuta is very optimistic and has been a fighter from the very beginning,” Malgorzata says. “She is tackling the obstacles with a good attitude and a sense of humor. She is taking things one day at a time, and we have high hopes that she will beat it.”

Related Posts


Subscribe to health enews newsletter

About the Author

Evonne Woloshyn
Evonne Woloshyn

Evonne Woloshyn, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. Evonne began her career as an anchor and reporter in broadcast news. Over the past 20 years, she has worked in health care marketing in both Ohio and Illinois. Evonne loves to travel, spend time with family and is an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan!