Living the Journey: Cancer Peer Support for the NWT

The Cause

The NWT Breast Health/Breast Cancer Action Group wants to build cancer peer support in NWT communities, by providing peer support training to cancer survivors from each region of the NWT.

In the great majority of NWT communities there are no cancer support services or peer support groups. Some cancer survivors have experienced the generosity of other survivors who have reached out to them to offer support, from just listening to answering difficult questions about the cancer journey. Once done their own cancer journey, survivors often want to return that gift and pay it forward by providing the same support to others who have been diagnosed with cancer. The proposed cancer peer support training will help make this possible by giving cancer survivors the skills and confidence to provide one-on-one peer support or develop peer support groups in their own communities.

In partnership with Willow Breast and Hereditary Cancer Support ( we will hold a two-day cancer peer support training workshop in Yellowknife in February, 2017, dates to be confirmed. The volunteer peer support trainees will then be empowered to offer peer support to cancer patients in their home community.

Willow, a national organization that has trained and supported hundreds of cancer peer support volunteers across Canada, will facilitate the workshop. The workshop will be open to NWT women who have experienced any type of cancer. The Action Group will ensure that the training materials are adapted as needed for northern communities.

Willow can cover all training workshop costs except participants’ travel to Yellowknife from other NWT communities to attend the workshop. We are therefore asking the Field Law Community Fund for financial support for travel so that at least one cancer survivor from each NWT region can access the peer support training.

Who Will it Benefit?

People living with cancer in many NWT communities will have increased access to cancer peer support in their home community as a result of the peer support training. Cancer peer support will also be more available for survivors in their own Indigenous language and culture through the peer support trainees, thus helping overcome a major barrier experienced by many NWT cancer survivors. On average 111 people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the NWT, and many more are currently living with cancer.

The 15 female cancer survivors who attend the peer support training workshop will gain skills, knowledge and self-confidence to provide peer support to other cancer survivors. The Willow training provides the opportunity to learn about the peer support model of service and how lived experiences make them uniquely qualified to support other cancer survivors one-on-one or in a support group. Workshop content includes communication and facilitation skills, self-care and boundaries, guidelines for support provision, and strategies to deal with common challenges.

The workshop participants will also connect with each other at the training. In the longer term this peer support training workshop will help foster an informal NWT network of peer support volunteers reaching out to others diagnosed with cancer.

While Willow’s mandate limits participation in the training workshop to female cancer survivors, many peer support volunteers may later choose to provide peer support to both male and female cancer survivors.

The Action Group will ensure that the workshop has participation from as many NWT communities as possible, travel funds permitting. A grant of $6,000 from Field Law will enable at least one participant from each region outside Yellowknife to attend the training. The Action Group will seek additional funds elsewhere to enable more participants to attend from other NWT communities.