Territorial Cancer Survivors’ Retreat for Women

The Cause

The NWT Breast Health/Breast Cancer Action Group (Action Group) wants to strengthen the connections and mutual support among NWT women experiencing any type of cancer, empower women to support others dealing with the same disease in their community, and reduce the isolation of women facing cancer especially in smaller communities in the NWT. To do this we propose to hold a two and half day Territorial Cancer Survivors’ Retreat for at least 20 women dealing with any type of cancer, in October 2019. The Retreat will take place in Yellowknife and include survivors from all regions of the NWT, with priority given to survivors from the smallest communities who may face the greatest isolation.

The Survivors’ Retreat will provide psycho-social support and opportunities for sharing personal experiences with other survivors. It will create a safe environment where participants are able to reflect on, explore and articulate their cancer journey through guided discussions and creative expression using an art medium. In the long term, participants will experience more balanced/healthy lifestyle, reduced feelings of isolation, and be able to address cancer related psycho-social issues and gain hope for the future.

In the NWT geographic distance and cultural and language barriers add to the overwhelming emotional and physical challenges experienced by cancer patients. Particularly for women from more remote communities, it may not be possible for them to share thoughts and feelings with others who are going through or have already gone through the cancer experience. There are also persistent myths and fears about cancer in communities that can make it difficult for a cancer survivor to speak with others about what she is experiencing.

Currently in the NWT there is no psycho-social support program available to help cancer survivors deal the impacts of cancer. Cancer peer support training that we held in 2017 in collaboration with the Canadian Cancer Society, with financial support from the Field Law Community Fund, helped develop cancer peer support groups in a few communities. Empowering cancer survivors through the proposed Retreat will further help the peer support movement grow.

Cancer survivors who have benefited from the experience of a Survivors’ Retreat often want to return that gift and pay it forward by providing support to others diagnosed with cancer. The Retreat will give cancer survivors information and skills to share with others going through cancer.

Who Will it Benefit?

Women experiencing any type of cancer will benefit from the emotional support, information, skills and knowledge gained at the Retreat. In the longer term they will benefit from the connections made with other cancer survivors that will help reduce isolation and be an informal network of support. The retreat participants will also gain practical tools to support themselves on their cancer journey such as nutrition information, therapeutic exercise options and healing methods. They will be able to pay it forward by sharing what they have gained at the Retreat with other women dealing with cancer in their community. So other women dealing with cancer will also benefit from emotional support, reduced stress/isolation, and new ways of coping with cancer. By including participants from as many NWT communities as possible we will hope to spread these benefits widely.

Based on available statistics, an average of 68 NWT women were diagnosed with cancer each year from 2011 to 2015. The proposed Territorial Retreat budget will cover travel costs for at least 14 women from NWT communities beyond Yellowknife to attend. There will also be spaces for six or more women from Yellowknife/Ndilo/Dettah to attend. We anticipate a total of at least 20 participants in the Retreat. We expect that most will have recently completed treatment although the Retreat is open to women at any stage in their cancer journey.

The Territorial Retreat will be the first time women experiencing any type of cancer will come together from all regions of the NWT at a retreat.

Independent evaluations of past retreats specific to breast cancer found that the retreats provided valuable opportunities for cancer survivors to come together in a safe environment, share experiences and speak candidly about their cancer journeys. The sessions helped facilitate personal healing for participants and helped them develop support networks. Participants highlighted feeling more connected with other cancer survivors and said it helped them deal with the emotional impact of their cancer: “It’s like I got my life back again.” “Meeting other women and learning about their cancer treatments – it helped me be open with others and to share and not be ashamed.” “Retreats give you the strength to go on.”