A NEW approach to fighting cancer and helping cancer patients, caregivers and families to heal is coming to the northwest.
Integrated cancer care, which includes doctors and practitioners of nutrition, exercise, and other disciplines, has been shown to have a beneficial effect in treating cancer, not just for the person diagnosed with the disease but for the rest of the family too.
Thanks to the efforts of a local group, Terrace gets to host the pilot project: the InspireLife BC Program.
The program is a two-day seminar for patients and caregivers, who get to hear from two doctors involved in integrated cancer care and what it means. Cancer patients will then have 90 minutes one-on-one with a doctor.
Seminar organizers Seth Downs and Lori Merrill said the group has been working for three years to get integrated cancer care here.
The InspireLife program is an add on to the traditional treatment of chemotherapy and/or radiation so it all can work together to help cancer patients and their families get a better quality of life and healing for their spirit and mind.
Local efforts started when Downs’ mom, Patti Barnes, was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and, during her six-month battle with the disease, went to Vancouver to the InspireHealth clinic there.
She spent many months there and it not only helped her but her family took part in it too.
And it helped with all of their healing, mentally and emotionally.
Healing means understanding how the body works and how nutrition and other things can help a person; that also includes attitude, which can have a major effect on a person’s health, said Downs.
Chemotherapy is all about traditional healing; InspireHealth is about healing the mind and soul, he added.
“Mom was able to come back and be in the house my dad built for her last months here in her favourite chair looking over the river,” said Downs.
He said when you walk into an InspireHealth clinic, it’s an “oasis” as it’s not like a hospital.
The clinic his mom went to had a fireside library with a huge selection of books, which she loved as she was a librarian, and where she could read and talk to other cancer patients, he said.
When she returned to Terrace, Barnes described the house where the program was located as being like a home; there was always some tea to drink, a fireplace, couches and many classes on mediation, yoga, cooking for health, fitness and relaxation as well as nurses and doctors who were available to spend time with her — time she valued and appreciated, he said.
She referred to it as a wonderful place, a place that enabled her to focus on her health as well as her disease, said Downs.
Less than a week before Barnes died, she spoke with a friend and said, “There just isn’t anything for people to do in Terrace when they have cancer…we need a place like Inspire where people can go,” said Downs.
She gave a friend a binder of information about the program and said since it had helped her, she wanted it to help others here, said Downs.
The local group has about 25 members: some of whom are Barnes’ friends and relatives, some who are living with cancer or know someone who is, some who are providers of complementary care and many who are interested in the InspireHealth model of care.
“We all believe that a model such as this would give those suffering from cancer a holistic, integrated approach to cancer treatment and recovery,” said Downs.
The group has spent the last three years working on fundraising to bring integrated cancer care here and to help others get easier access to it here instead of having to fly to Vancouver for it.
The program lets you take charge of your own health because when you become a cancer patient, the hospital and primary care can take over.
In Barnes’ case, it gave her and her family ownership of her healing, said Merrill.
“It gives you control over something,” she said, adding that, by taking control over these things, you’re not allowing yourself to be a victim.
“(Integrated cancer care) is no replacement for anything that’s being offered now,” said Merrill.
“The local cancer society is amazing, and they have huge support. InspireHealth adds to the choices and quality of life.”
The program is intended to complement traditional care and is not regarded as an alternative so when people go to the seminar here and consult with the doctors, the doctors will ask about their chemotherapy so any followup program blends in.
Afterward, patients can follow up with the doctors for support and to ask questions, and that followup will be online. They will also have access to research.
“People want integrated care. Primary care is amazing and we’re lucky to have it but integrated care is holistic. It increases the quality of life of those with cancer and the community because every person who’s ill affects everyone else,” Merrill said.
“That is another reason why we’re doing this now: cancer rates are increasing. Now is when we want to start prevention. We do talk about prevention too,” added Downs.
Cancer survivors can change their lifestyle so their quality of life is better and hopefully they won’t be looking at cancer again, and hopefully others can take control of their lifestyles now before they have cancer, he said.
InspireHealth clinics started up in Vancouver in 1997 and the first satellite office was set up in Victoria.
The clinics are planned for Prince George, Kamloops, Kelowna and Abbotsford.
There’s even discussion of opening a clinic here too, said Downs.
Locally, the hope is to create a space with doctors here for consulting and a database to access research, he added.
If a clinic gets going up here, then people won’t have to travel down to Vancouver for treatment, which also speaks to quality of life as people can stay home and get help they want and need.
“She would be extremely proud and happy about this,” said Downs about what his mom would think about the pilot project here.
The seminar is being offered to the region and not just the city, said Merrill.
InspireHealth physician Dr. Dana Hubler, who will be coming here to give the two-day seminar and talk to cancer patients one-on-one, has seen the benefits of the program.
“What we’ve seen in in-house data is that our patients do live longer in terms of just strictly how long they live but we also do know that patients live better,” said Hubler.
She added that the same positive results have been seen in patients whether they’re in the early stages or late stages of cancer.
“[They’re] living with a sense of hope no matter what stage they’re at and living with a sense of empowerment,” said Hubler.
“…and you are a whole person, not just a person with cancer.”
When people go to the two-day seminar in Vancouver, they are invited to bring a family member or a support person like a friend, who can also have access to online information, which is important because a cancer diagnosis doesn’t just affect that person, she said.
With integrated cancer care, people gain hope they might not otherwise get from traditional treatment only, even if their diagnosis is terminal.
“Whatever stage they’re at, people have the possibility to become whole and have hope and live their days as a whole person,” said Hubler.
A lot of what the seminar does is to help people turn the fear of a cancer diagnosis into a feeling of empowerment and an opportunity to make big changes that improve their quality of life, she said.
The two-day program will include two lunches put together by InspireHealth of organic, healthy foods.
Thanks to the local group’s fundraisers during the last three years, the money raised has gone to help halve the cost of registration for cancer patients and caregivers who want to attend the conference.
And the provincial government is paying for part of the cost too.
Registration is now open and everyone who wants to attend must register in advance as space is limited.
That’s because of the time needed for patients to consult with the doctors coming up here for the two-day program.
For more details on the InspireLife BC Program, including how to register, see Seminar under City Scene on Page 19.