Wake Forest program helps non-native English speakers navigate through cancer

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Dinorah Aquino was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

Dinorah doesn't speak English. Today, she has her 17-year-old daughter Leslie to translate, but that`s not always the case.

"She said it was difficult because she would always have to look for interpreters or a friend or a family member," her daughter said.

But this time around, when her cancer came back last June, it's different.

Maria Alejandra Combs is the Hispanic clinical trial patient navigator of the cancer center. She, and the rest of the team from the Office of Cancer Health Equity, including director Dr. Karen Winkfield, work to eliminate barriers for cancer patients and their families.

The main mission of the cancer health equity is to make sure everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, their location, gender, has the same opportunity to survive cancer.

Whether it's help navigating the health care system, interpreting their treatment plan, rescheduling appointments, or lining up transportation or gas cards, Maria does it all and then some.

The Winston-Salem Foundation helped fund the position, but program manager Carla Strom - a cancer survivor herself - says this kind of support is priceless.

"Hospitals are big and they're complex and even if you work in them that doesn't mean you can't possibly know everything about everything," she says. "So having someone who can help you coordinate that and advocate for you, in your own language is such a blessing."