On June 11, ELLICSR hosted National Cancer Survivorship Day and the first annual Robert Buckman memorial lecture. This year's theme was Surviving and Thriving: Celebrating survivor stories through artistic expression. We spoke with Dr. Pamela Catton, Founding Director and Scott Secord, Manager, Clinical Survivorship Program at UHN's ELLICSR Health Wellness and Cancer Survivorship Centre, to learn more about cancer survivorship at UHN.

Survivorship Day.jpgHow would you define cancer survivorship?
Cancer survivorship begins at diagnosis. It is a term applied to the experiences patients have to deal with throughout their cancer journey. These challenges can affect mind, body and spirit, and are different depending on what point of the journey the patient is on. It's really a way of describing the obstacles faced by not only the cancer survivor, but their family and the people closest to them.  

What are some of the challenges cancer survivors may experience once treatment has ended?
It wasn't until recently that we started to understand that cancer and its treatments had long-term effects in every domain – physical, emotional, social and spiritual. Challenges for cancer survivors vary by cancer type and treatment, but commonly, people are affected by chronic fatigue, pain, mobility issues, memory loss, emotional distress, disruption of social relationships and return-to-work issues.

What post-treatment support services are available to cancer survivors and their families?
In addition to ELLICSR, there are many community cancer organizations that have been doing this for years; for example: Gilda's Club, Willow and Wellspring. At ELLICSR, we've tried to connect with many cancer based community organizations because they have a lot of support and diversional programs. Our program here is designed to help patients at any point in their cancer journey and provide information, education, tools and support to equip people for the life-long management of the effects of cancer and its treatment.  

Why are these support services valuable?
Nothing is ever quite the same after treatment. Cancer survivors have to navigate this new situation and doing that on your own is difficult; medically, we are not setup to coach survivors through that. For the most part, families and friends of survivors feel that once treatment is finished, everything is over – but the patient is left with the emotional burden of what it all means.  Grappling with that brush of mortality is a new reality for a lot of patients. They don't have an active disease, but they now have to live with the fear of recurrence.

What kinds of programs does ELLICSR offer to cancer survivors?
ELLICSR has a whole range of programs that focus on self-management and education beginning with the journey itself. We offer a lecture series on Living Well with Cancer, a six part discussion for survivors at any point on their journey. Another class, Managing your Cancer Journey, educates patients on how to gain more information on diagnosis and treatment. We have exercise classes, community forums, cooking demonstrations, and research projects that are looking at teaching people how to cope with the fear of recurrence. It's really an integration of all of the support that's available in a non-clinical, stress-relieving environment.

What do cancer survivors take away from ELLICSR programming?
We've performed qualitative interviews with survivors to assess and determine which programs are most beneficial in improving a patient's confidence, anxiety levels, etc. Most of them really feel that it's the first time someone has taken an interest in them as a whole person versus just their illness. We come across many patients that say, "I wish I would have known about this program sooner."

To learn more about ELLICSR, visit http://www.ellicsr.ca/

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