World Cancer Day: We Can Improve Access to Care

By Paula Muldoon on February 2 / 2018

[Cancer, Cancer Coaching, News]Comments

Today, February 4, is World Cancer Day, an annual event raising awareness about the disease, and advocating for positive change in the prevention, treatment and management of cancer worldwide.

In Canada, cancer is the leading cause of death and it’s estimated that more than 200,000 new cases were diagnosed in 2017. Fortunately, the experience of cancer for Canadians is changing. Thanks to advances in cancer treatment, you are now twice as likely to survive for at least 10 years after a cancer diagnosis as you were 40 years ago. This is remarkable.

But this also means that more Canadians than ever are living with the long-term consequences of cancer and its treatment. Ongoing physical impairments such as chronic fatigue and pain are common, as are mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Six months following cancer diagnosis, more than one in five survivors suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For some, cancer never completely goes away. This is especially the case with ovarian cancer, chronic leukemias and some lymphomas, as well as types of cancers that spread or come back in other parts of the body.

For these reasons, cancer is now recognized widely as a chronic disease. Quite simply, it is an illness that survivors live with for life.

Unfortunately, we’ve failed to provide the long-term, comprehensive care those living with cancer desperately need. After treatment, survivors go from the specialized care of their oncologist back to their family doctor. For most, it feels like jumping off a cliff.

A study released this week by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC) shows that while their cancer may be well treated, many patients experience significant, and often debilitating, physical and emotional side effects of the disease that are often not being adequately addressed.

This year’s World Cancer Day theme is “We Can. I Can.” It highlights the role individuals, organizations and governments can play to reduce the global burden of cancer.

When I started volunteering at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation 14 years ago, my dream was to change the experience of cancer for patients and their families. The Foundation was already providing important funding for research and equipment, but we knew we could do more.

In 2011, we founded a Cancer Coaching program to help fill the care gap for cancer survivors and their families. Those lucky enough to live in the region now have access to free one-to-one coaching with regulated healthcare professionals, as well as paid group coaching, workshops, nutrition seminars and healing therapies.

The program has helped those living with cancer become more active in their care, achieve their health and wellness goals, and improve their quality of life. It helps survivors better manage their symptoms and mitigate their distress. In 2016, 97% of our clients said they were better able to cope with life because of the program.

Today, as CEO of the Cancer Foundation, I’m proud of the work we’ve done. But we must do more. Right now, in Canada, there are no other organizations providing this kind of care for cancer survivors. That has to change.

It’s time to go beyond acknowledging cancer as a chronic disease and ensure survivors across the country get the care and support they need.

Here in Ontario, we provide long-term, comprehensive care in the community for those living with other chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Let’s do the same for those living with cancer.

Let’s replicate models of care like our coaching program across Canada and integrate them with primary health care, so that the experience transitioning out of cancer treatment is seamless. Let’s make programs like this one accessible and available to all Canadians.

I know we can.


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