Cancer Support Text Messages for Women in the NWT

The Cause

Cancer Support Text Messages for Women in the NWT
NWT cancer survivors may need many types of support to aid their recovery, and regain emotional/physical health and wellness, both during treatment and post-treatment. Many must travel long distances to access treatment and may have few sources of cancer support in their home community. Access to information resources may be limited by lack of internet and literacy and/or cultural barriers.
This project will test the use of text messages to support NWT women’s physical, mental and emotional health during cancer treatment and post-treatment for breast cancer or other cancers women may experience. The project is based on a model developed by a Canadian researcher* that provided 3-4 short text messages each week over a period of several months, covering many topics of concern to cancer survivors: nutrition, physical activity, social/emotional well-being, affirmation/encouragement, and general cancer and recovery information.
Text messages offer many advantages as internet access is not needed in order to benefit from the free program, which also is very inexpensive for the organization providing the text messages. Internet access is only needed to sign up for the program and to complete a short evaluation questionnaire post- project. The NWT Breast Health/Breast Cancer Action Group (Action Group) believe this type of supportive messaging will lend itself well to addressing access barriers many NWT residents dealing with cancer currently face, which have also been exacerbated by the restrictions to in-person support due to Covid-19.
We propose to collaborate with the researcher to develop northern message content, timing and delivery, that is appropriate for women in the NWT affected by breast cancer or other women’s cancers with a focus on Indigenous women in smaller communities. The project will be piloted with women cancer survivors in two small and two larger communities.
Based on the previous research carried out, we anticipate that the benefits to the women participating in the project will include reduced isolation, increased confidence in their recovery and better physical and emotional health outcomes. If successful, this cancer support text messaging model can be applied more broadly to assist other NWT cancer patients, people dealing with serious chronic diseases or even those needing support after addictions treatments, and could also be translated into other NWT official languages.

Who Will it Benefit?

Currently, in the NWT, there is no psycho-social support program available to help cancer survivors deal with the physical, social and emotional impacts of the cancer experience. Support groups have started in only a very few communities (now limited by Covid-19 restrictions) and cancer patient navigators can provide some support through the treatment process. However, many cancer patients remain isolated with no-one to turn to, and post-treatment there are no support programs available. The transition from treatment to post-treatment can be especially difficult.
The plain-language text messages, covering many topics of concern to cancer patients, will be a simple and effective way to help fill the gap in support for cancer patients and survivors. They will also include links to other sources of information. Where language or literacy is a barrier, the messages can be read to the patient by a trusted friend or family member. The text messages are not for two-way communication but do provide a way to contact the project coordinator with any questions or concerns.
Approximately 40 women dealing with breast cancer or other female cancers in the NWT will benefit directly through their involvement in the project. In particular, women with cancer in the smaller NWT communities will be a priority for support and information through the project. We expect that at least half of participants in the project will be Indigenous women.In the longer term this model of supportive text messages can be applied more widely to help others dealing with any type of cancer or other serious chronic disease in the NWT. The use of text messaging is simple, inexpensive and avoids difficulties with internet access that may be a barrier for many cancer patients, especially in smaller communities. The project messages will be in plain-language English and will lend themselves to translation into other NWT languages.
The project participants will be recruited from two smaller and two larger communities in the NWT. A project coordinator will respond to any concerns or questions from participants throughout the project and be able to refer them to other sources of support. The project coordinator will also check in with the participants at several points in the project. While project sign-up and the final short evaluation questionnaire will need internet access, we will collaborate with community health care providers to assist with internet access where needed.