Community care for cancer patients piloted in Fort Smith

Community care for cancer patients piloted in Fort Smith
Minister of Education, Culture and Employment Alfred Moses, Yellowknife Mayor Mark Heyck and NWT Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Andre Corriveau chat at the walking track at the Yellowknife Fieldhouse on Feb. 4. Wearing lavender ribbons, the colour of cancer awareness, they were helping to recognize World Cancer Day and Winter Walk to Work Week. The event coincided with a two-day cancer sharing circle and a variety of other activities across the territory. Admission to the walking track was free all day. Photo courtesy GNWT.

Marie-Christine Aubrey, owner of the Whooping Crane guest house in Fort Smith and an employee of the local health authority for over 20 years, is also a breast cancer survivor.

“I’m not afraid to say that!” she exclaimed as she described her experience with the disease. “I remember how difficult it was to communicate with somebody who has no clue what cancer is like to go through. There were many questions, so many times they went unanswered. Then, you’re getting upset because you’re not getting anywhere. Even though I’m a strong person, there were times that it wasn’t easy.”

It was this insider knowledge – coupled with her time working with cancer patients at the health care centre – that drove Aubrey and fellow survivor Louise Fraser to Vancouver last year, where they trained to be care coordinators under Willow Breast and Hereditary Cancer Support.

In a two-day workshop at the Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre on Feb. 11 and 12, Aubrey will finally get the chance to pass on her knowledge in the first of what she hopes to be many community care events.

“We’ve been trying for a few years to put something together.”

Since 2013, the NWT Breast Health/Breast Cancer Action Group and its partners at Lutra Associates Ltd. have been conducting research on the typical cancer journey, in order to understand where the gaps in care are and how they can be filled.

The biggest challenge in the NWT – and even for patients outside of the jurisdiction – was found to be keeping track of care. What medications need to be taken and how often? Which doctors are you supposed to meet with on what day? Have your health care specialists communicated so everyone is on the same track? Throw in the stresses of traveling to Yellowknife from an outside community for cancer treatments and the situation quickly becomes overwhelming.

That is why the Action Group has honed its focus on developing and delivering cancer care plans, documents that track all of the variables involved in cancer treatment and aftercare for survivors.

However, a piece of paper simply isn’t enough, the research uncovered. Having a community of prepared supporters can make all the difference in one’s cancer journey.

“We’re to bring support to cancer patients, the people going through cancer and also the family members,” she said, noting that every cancer journey is unique. “When a person is affected by cancer it is also difficult for the family members to understand the impact of it. There is cancer where you’re being told, well, you have so much time to live; a lot of cancer which is curable; there are all kinds and no one reacts the same way. There isn’t the same cancer as we know for everybody.”

The Fort Smith workshops will focus on three of the 18 recommendations made as a result of the research; developing and implementing cancer after-care plans and improving access to counselling and resources necessary for positive lifestyle changes.

“In community cancer sharing circles, other consultations and research carried out as part of the development of the recently released Charting our Course: Northwest Territories Cancer Strategy 2015-2025, NWT cancer survivors and other residents have expressed the need for access to holistic support during the cancer journey,” Chief Public Health Officer for the NWT, Dr. Andre Corriveau said. “The Action Group’s input and needs will contribute to patients’ quality of life and increase their likelihood of living longer and surviving cancer.”

The upcoming workshop is geared towards anyone who may be involved in helping cancer survivors to complete or fulfill their cancer care plan, including medical and community health staff and community members.

“One of the five goals of Charting our Course is to improve the quality of life of cancer patients, their families and caregivers and cancer survivors,” Corriveau said. “One of our strategic priorities under this goal is to enhance care and support services for cancer survivors. The Action Group has taken the lead in developing survivorship care planning tools and support through the demonstration project and we are pleased to collaborate with their efforts. The survivor care plans are potentially an effective tool to engage NWT cancer survivors in their own health and wellness and link them to community support services that will be trained through the project.”

Similar workshops are also being piloted in Fort Good Hope.

“Louise and I would really like to be there for people who have questions,” Aubrey said. “We are not doctors, we just want to help to do the best we can, give the best support we can give them, and there are many ways to give support.”

For more information or to sign up for the workshop, interested parties are encouraged to contact Aggie Brockman at, 867-873-1000 or Robyn Hall at 867-621-2020.

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