Bringing compassion to the community

By Jacquelin Chatterpaul
February 27, 2014

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Cancer CareIllustration by Frank Neufeld

Jill Barber looks forward to the last Wednesday of every month.

That’s the day the retired London teacher reserves for Cancer Care Talks, a series of free educational seminars open to the public. But for the 56-year-old, and cancer survivors like her, it is a safe space where she can feel “normal.”

One particular talk still resonates for Barber. Led by Heather Palmer, a rehabilitation specialist and Western alumna, the talk centred on how to manage what therapists call ‘brain fog,’ a change in brain cognition and among the common side effects of chemotherapy.


Barber learned not to scold herself when experiencing the problem.

“Just accept it and move on,” she said. 

Anita Cramp, a Western professor and one of the organizers for Cancer Care Talks, says the project’s focus on the community is meant to let cancer patients know “there are things that people can implement in their daily lives to improve their cancer experience.”

Through past research pursuits, Cramp had made connections with local cancer support organizations like Wellspring London Cancer Support Centre, the London Regional Cancer Society and South West Regional Cancer Program. These organizations soon became valued community partners for Cancer Care Talks.

In 2012, nearly 60 per cent of chemotherapy outpatients were knowledgeable about managing life after treatment, according to South West Regional Cancer Program. 

The London Regional Cancer Program has, in the past, done educational seminar programs. But Cramp wanted to provide something more routine.

And then, in the summer of 2010, Cramp’s mother died from brain cancer. She Cramp was her mother’s caregiver. All these events in her life — her research, her newfound connections and her mother’s death — inspired her to organize Cancer Care Talks. 

In the fall of 2011, Cramp applied for a Knowledge Dissemination Grant offered by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR). Among the range of grants CIHR offers was a year-long funding opportunity offered exclusively to events. The grant funds events that contribute to the sharing and uptake of research evidence. By June 2012, Cramp received news her application was selected for funding.

Each community partner plays an important role in spreading the news about Cancer Care Talks. The South West Regional Cancer Program records each seminar and posts it to its YouTube channel. This way, anyone who may have medical or geographical barriers to attending every month, can still benefit from the knowledge shared by the topics covered. The London Regional Cancer Program lends its connections within the health-care industry to Cancer Care Talks. In addition to sharing its resources, Wellspring London also advertises about each Cancer Care Talks session through email.

So far, there have been a variety of experts invited by a committee of community partners to weigh in on a different topic each month: medical doctors, cognitive therapists, nutritionists and spiritual-care specialists, to name a few.

At the first seminar, Catherine Sabiston, a professor in Exercise and Health Psychology, was there to answer questions about fighting fatigue through exercise and how to keep going long after remission. 

Johanna Kiewet, 69, who enjoyed an active lifestyle for most of her life, became friends with Barber by coming to the talks. She remembers the immense fatigue from her last three chemotherapy sessions.

“I couldn’t even move,” she said. “The sun was shining outside. I just felt like just lying in bed and doing absolutely nothing.”

Kiewet has learned cancer is “not all negative.” She realized that she wasn’t alone in her fight against cancer and how important it is to advocate for yourself because, “the medical profession does not know everything.”  

Along with new friends like Kiewet, Barber loves she can learn something new each time.  This was one of Cramp’s objectives from the start.

“It’s all things that you can start doing tomorrow,” Cramp said. “You don’t need a prescription.”


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