Dee Dee Ricks -- An Education Continued: Making Patient Navigation a Household Word

You might have seen Dee Dee Ricks' documentary last year on HBO. Titled The Education of Dee Dee Ricks, it followed, with unwavering honesty, Dee Dee's journey through breast cancer, and navigating the U.S. health care system.

While Dee Dee was fighting for her life, she realized what an advantage she had. She had money. She had access to the best doctors. She had childcare. She had a large group of people to act as advisors to her through the process of treatment, and could afford to pay out-of-pocket expenses. What chance did people have for survival if they couldn't even get to the doctor because they couldn't pay bus fare or afford a babysitter? Or worse, what if they were given a diagnosis and didn't know what the next steps of treatment should be?

One of those people was a woman named Cynthia. She was uninsured. She wasn't able to get access to health care and by the time Cynthia received help, she had stage 4 breast cancer. Dee Dee and Cynthia forged a bond, a friendship, that would only deepen as Dee Dee took on Cynthia's fight as well as her own. Dee Dee paid for her care, tracked her illness, and got her into the best hospitals with the finest doctors.

Sadly, It was too late. While Dee Dee recovered from cancer, Cynthia lost her fight.

Dee Dee promised she wouldn't let Cynthia's death be in vain. That she would fight for the rights of those who were less fortunate. Dee Dee would become a patient advocate and began the process of changing U.S. health care as she knew it. She would become a champion of Patient Navigation.

AP: What has been the biggest change since your documentary came out?

DDR: After the documentary I became much more public, whereas before I was proactively reaching out to individuals and that it was almost like a flip -- people were reaching out to me and asking for help, and that's where my education continued because I'm sitting here and watching all this transpire and I'm feeling more and more helpless. I know what the solution is, and all these emails are coming to me requesting help ... It ingrained in me how far behind our health care system really is.

AP: It seems to me that you need to create a foundation.

DDR: It's not so much a foundation; I think I have to continue my journey making "patient navigation" a household word ... Making sure foundations out there that are helping people are really integrating patient navigation in the right way. Where I think that I will be most added value in the future, is working with both the private and public sectors.

We have been able to effectively work with Congressman Israel on the Patient Navigation Assistance act [of] 2012 ... Even though [many Medicaid patients] have access [to quality treatment], 1) they don't know to use it, 2) they are still coming in too late.

I don't necessarily want to be lumped in with breast cancer ... there's a much larger story here. It's about treating all chronic diseases in the communities all across America. That's the story here. There is so much work to be done, it's not about me raising money or raising awareness, it's about me implementing patient navigation across the United States.

Dee Dee Ricks is currently raising funds for a New York City Mammovan. The Mammovan will screen women who can't afford testing. For more, visit

To watch Dee Dee's full interview, go to