ATHABASCA — For rural women dealing with the challenging physical and mental side effects of cancer treatments, Sorrentino’s Compassion House has been a harbour in the storm and now they have developed new tools for women post-treatment.
An often-overlooked time in a cancer patient's life is after they are done treatment, and for Athabasca woman Barbara Burns that was exactly the case, so when Sorrentino’s developed a comprehensive website called CompassionConnects, she saw exactly what she had been missing during her post-treatment journey — support and resources.
“When I was going through cancer in 2015, I really felt there was kind of a hole in the system and the hole in the system was basically, there wasn't anything for a cancer survivor; any kind of connection later, when they went home, especially with someone like me, who was from a rural community where there's a great deal of a sense of isolation, because not only are you the only one going through the cancer, but all your resources are in the city and they're far away from you,” said Burns, a former teacher with Aspen View Public Schools.
CompassionConnects is an online resource featuring virtual and in-person supports, including content from health professionals such as psychologists, dietitians, physicians, and researchers, all passionate about improving cancer care and providing that post-treatment support and resources that is sometimes lacking. All programming is offered through the Compassion House Foundation.
“Here, I was going through all this stuff like depression, and just from side effects and stuff like that (and) I just I didn't know that those type of things were normal,” she said. “And for a cancer person there's many physical and mental side effects that extend far beyond the cancer treatment that happens with the cancer patient or the cancer survivor.”
Included on the site are blog posts by women who live in rural areas who understand the cancer journey, addressing topics including anxiety and depression, managing treatment side-effects, body positivity, exercise, and Burns contributed to that saying she felt it was important to talk about things that no one was talking about.
“They've got lots of articles by professionals and by former survivors like myself,” said Burns. “I actually wrote four blogs out of the five that are presented; I covered mental wellness, I covered managing the side effects and the fatigue, exercising at Compassion House and what happens there and then also, I talked about my anxiety and my depression journey.”
CompassionConnects is a joint effort between Compassion House Foundation; Julia Craig, a scholar with the Peter Lougheed Leadership College (PLLC) who helped develop and implement the program; and the Edmonton Community Foundation, which provided a $25,000 grant with the support of the federal Emergency Community Support Fund.
“No woman should feel alone during what is one of the most troubling times of her life,” said Craig. “CompassionConnects keeps the sense of community and connection experienced at Sorrentinoʼs Compassion House alive, across distance, and at a critical period like the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Burns said she was impressed by the wealth of information having to do with nutrition and exercise and the number of support groups.
"There was nothing like that when I was going through my cancer journey,” said Burns. "I'm just hoping that with what Compassion House has done with this kind of incredible resource, that it's not only for women who have gone through breast cancer — that's kind of Compassion House’s specialty — but it can be applied to everyone. Everyone can get something from this incredible resource.”
While the emphasis is to provide rural women affected by cancer with support, CompassionConnects is public and accessible to anyone. The program is available on the Compassion House Foundation website at: compassionhouse.org/compassionconnects.