Cancer Peer Support for Women
In January 2016, the Action Group began facilitating a peer support group in Yellowknife for women who have experienced any type of cancer. The group takes place on the last Wednesday of the month from 7 to 8 p.m. at Aurora College. The group meets every month except July, August and December. The board members trained to lead these sessions, also offer peer one on one support.
The cancer peer support group for women has received financial support from the City of Yellowknife, the Field Law Community Fun, 100 Men Who Give a Damn -Yellowknife and in-kind donation of space from the North Slave Campus of Aurora College.
NWT Cancer Survivors’ Retreat 2019
From 2000 on, the Action Group has held a NWT breast cancer survivors retreat almost every year up until 2012, funding permitting. The retreat provides emotional and peer support, networking with other survivors and opportunities to learn new healing skills. The two-day retreat is facilitated by a therapist/counselor/social worker and includes art activities with a local artist, information sessions on topics such as nutrition and exercise.
Retreat are usually held in Yellowknife, but has also been held in Inuvik and in Hay River in the past. It is usually attended by up to 20 survivors from across the NWT, and at least half of participants in the most recent retreats have been Indigenous women.
A thorough evaluation of the longer term impacts of the retreats up to 2008 found that retreat participants experienced more balanced/healthy lifestyle, reduced feelings of isolation, and were able to address lingering cancer-related psychosocial issues and gain hope for the future.
The last retreat was held in October 2019 for women affected by any type of cancer. Funding has been provided by Hot’ii ts’eeda, United Way NWT, Stanton Hospital Foundation, and Field, with in-kind support from Canadian North and the Union of Northern Workers.
Peer Support Training Workshop
In February 2019, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (now part of the Canadian Cancer Society – CCS) and the Action Group partnered to hold this peer support volunteer training workshop in Yellowknife.
The goal of the training was to equip women who have had breast cancer or other cancer with the tools they need to start and sustain community-based peer support groups and community outreach. Participants learned about the peer support model of service delivery and how lived experience makes then uniquely qualified to support others. Sixteen women from eight communities attended the training workshop. CCS later sponsored follow-up quarterly teleconferences with the trainees.
CCS covered all workshop costs in Yellowknife. Financial support from the Government of the NWT and the Field Law Community Fund enabled the Action Group to pay the travel costs of women from other NWT communities to attend the training.
Cancer Survivor Care Plan Demonstration Project
On October1, 2015, the Action Group and community, regional and community partners began this project, a 2.5-year demonstration project to pilot and evaluate a cancer survivor care program in the NWT. The Survivor Care Plan project offered support to men and women who are experiencing any type of cancer.
The goal of the project was to improve wellness and quality of life for people living with any type of cancer and their families. Specifically, the project piloted cancer Survivor Care Plans and enhanced cancer survivorship support services in two communities: Fort Good Hope and Fort Smith. A Community Coordinator and a local cancer group in each community guided the project, with overall coordination by Lutra Consultants under the direction of the Action Group and other project partners.
Survivor Care Plans (SCPs) have been piloted in other areas of Canada as a tool to help ease the transition from active cancer treatment to post treatment. This project, however, piloted SCPs and individual support beginning at diagnosis. The SCP provides cancer survivors with individualized information including their complete cancer history, medical follow-up plan, and care team contacts. SCPs also include information on managing longer term side effects of treatment, stress and emotional issues, community resources, and guidelines for healthy living (healthy diet and weight, physical activity and smoking cessation). Through the SCP the person is supported to identify their own survivorship goals and a plan for achieving them.
Demonstration project activities included:
- Raising community awareness of cancer survivorship
- Outreach and orientation with cancer survivors and their families to invite their participation
- Training workshops for health care providers and other community support services and peer support volunteers on the impacts of cancer, survivorship, assisting survivors to develop their SCP and providing needed services, support and information, including traditional practices and connection to support for healthy living.
- Collaboration with community support services, peer support volunteers and health care providers to pilot the SCPs and incorporate community and Indigenous knowledge and experience in developing services for cancer survivors and their families
- Monitoring and evaluation of the demonstration project results and outcomes.
Project outcomes included:
- A cancer survivorship program model, tools and practices ready to be implemented across the NWT
- A tested NWT-adapted SCP as an important tool to engage and empower cancer survivors in their own health and wellness, and link them to trained community support resources
- Improved wellness and quality of life for cancer survivors and their families, reduced anxiety, access to appropriate services, healthier lifestyles and a reduction in their risk factors for cancer recurrence or for other chronic diseases.
Project partners were the Sahtu and Fort Smith Health and Social Services Authorities, Goba Group in Fort Good Hope, the Cancer Support Group in Fort Smith, and a network of cancer survivors, physicians, advocates and others. The NWT Department of Health and Social Services, United Way NWT, Dominion Diamond Corporation, Amgen Canada and many other organizations provided financial support for the project.
In 2018 the NWT Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA) committed to implementing SCPs and improved cancer survivor support across the NWT. The Action Group continues to provide advice and guidance, as required, to the NTHSSA Cancer Care Coordinator and Cancer Navigators.
NWT Breast Cancer Journeys Project
The NWT Breast Cancer Journeys Project took place from 201-2015. The purpose of the project was to describe the experience of NWT breast cancer survivors from investigation of an abnormality, through diagnosis and treatment, to post-treatment, and to use this information as a basis for collaboration with health system partners to address barriers, gaps and inequities that may be experienced by breast cancer survivors along the breast cancer journey. It was recognized that the experience of breast cancer survivors would also shed light on the experience of all cancer NWT cancer survivors.
Phase One: In this needs assessment phase, information was gathered through interviews and focus groups with 110 individuals, including NWT breast cancer survivors and their supporters, health care providers and other stakeholders, regarding the breast cancer journey. The project focused on the experiences of breast cancer survivors from small predominantly Aboriginal communities. The needs assessment resulted in 18 recommendations addressing all aspects of the breast cancer journey. The final report of this phase is available on the Action Group website.
Phase Two: In this phase, the Action Group focused on three recommendations from the needs assessment report where we had the capacity to take a leadership role: cancer survivor care plans; cancer patients’ rights, and the development of peer support in the NWT. We collaborated with breast cancer survivors, health care providers and other community members in Fort Good Hope and Fort Smith to develop a model for cancer survivor care planning and lay the foundation for a demonstration project. We also completed and distributed the Cancer Patients Rights and Responsibilities pamphlet and wallet card, and began work on peer support.
This initiative was funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation- Prairies/NWT, and later also received funding from the NWT Dept. of Health and Social Services.
Phase 1 Summary, click here.
Art of Healing Psycho-social Support Program
From 2010 -2013, the Action Group developed and implemented The Art of Healing (AoH) programs. The program uses group discussion and creative artistic expression to provide emotional support and healing for survivors of any type of cancer. The program is modeled on the Arts in Medicine program at the Cross Cancer Institute. The program has been delivered in various ways, such as once a week sessions over several weeks, or as a full weekend.
Through this project the Action Group engaged the founder of the Edmonton program to train NWT artists and therapists to facilitate AoH sessions. We then piloted AoH programs in Yellowknife, Hay River, and Fort Smith, and piloted regional AoH programs for survivors in the Beaufort-Delta and Sahtu regions, and for Tlicho and Deline survivors.
Outcomes of the project included a successful program model and trained NWT therapists and artists to deliver the program and collaboration with two regional health and social services authorities to deliver the AoH program in their region or communities.
The project also resulted in the development of a DVD of NWT breast cancer survivors sharing their breast cancer journey and the support they received along the way. The DVD’s are available through the website or hard copies from our office.
The initial AoH project development was funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and CBCF- Prairies/NWT. As there are professional fees and other costs involved in holding an AoH program, holding more programs depends on future funding . We have since held an AoH program in Yellowknife in April 2014 and October 2015, with financial support from United Way NWT and the Field Law Community Fund respectively.
Facilitator Training for Community Breast Health Workshops
In 2009-2010 the Action Group developed the Breast Health and Healthy Living Community Workshop Kit. The Kit contains a tabletop display, pamphlets, posters, DVDs and hands-on materials, to raise awareness of breast health/breast cancer, preventable risk factors, and encourage community women to practice breast health and healthy living. The Kit also contains a plain language facilitators’ guide that local health workers or others can use to facilitate the three-hour workshop through group discussion and fun activities. The pamphlets and posters were produced in English and all the Aboriginal languages of the NWT.
While the Kit materials are used regularly by Community Health Representatives (CHRs) for information displays and breast health fairs in their communities, few were actually facilitating the workshop. In January 2013, the Action Group held a training workshop for NWT CHRs and other frontline health workers, on how to facilitate the workshop.
This training project was funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and organized in collaboration with the NWT Dept. of Health and Social Services and regional health and social services authorities.
Review and Updates of Resources
As new breast screening guidelines are approved by the Department of Health and Social Services, the Action Group reviews its pamphlets and materials to ensure proper alignment. We have also reviewed and updated our Patient Information Kit several times. In 2014, we updated and re-printed our Breast Surgery booklet and our Caring For Yourself breast health booklet. United Way NWT provided financial support for this project.